µTAS, the Future of Microfluidics, and Cellix
Cellix is heading along to µTAS 2018 (booth 340!) in Taiwan, and ahead of this, we've been considering some of the most exciting recent advances in microfluidics.
Microfluidics is the branch of physics and engineering dealing with the behaviour of liquids in the micro-litre range or below, and their subsequent manipulation and control.
We at Cellix have been in a privileged position to see huge developments in the field, and to drive some of these ourselves. We're excited to get back this year to µTAS 2018, this year in Taiwan, and explore the latest advances in the field as well as get an outlook for next year.
From the outset, Cellix has been a company with strong expertise in this area; we launched our company portfolio with our microfluidic pumps, and more recently we've become involved with exciting, cutting edge uses of microfluidic technologies in the brewing industry and the gene editing market.
What are the hot topics in microfluidics now?
Microfluidics has applications in a range of fields, but some of the most interesting work is the translational work being done to allow biologists to access microfluidic technologies.
In an excellent recent review, Scheler et al. characterised the main applications of microfluidic technologies in the biosciences into 3 functional categories: controlled reaction chambers, high-throughput arrays and micro-positioning systems.
These are hugely desirable traits in a potential experiment set-up; the ability to precisely control reagents added to a cell, determine exactly cell locations relative to each other and run huge amounts of experiments in parallel could greatly enhance accuracy and precision of the conclusions being drawn from the experimental results.
Why might microfluidics-based high-throughput platforms be useful?
In particular, the ability to use microfluidics as part of high-throughput arrays has huge implications in many forms of biological research and application.
These not only provide a huge amount of statistical power to an experiment but provide excellent means to spot marginal population changes, rare events, or to screen huge amounts of cells, conditions or drugs.
The ability to gather huge amounts of data in a limited amount of time and space has the potential to utterly transform fields; for evidence, see the transformative effect that the introduction of flow cytometry had on the field of immunology; it completely changed the minimum standard of evidence a researcher would expect to see in a paper, strengthening the field by allowing for conclusions to be drawn with more certainty in a far shorter space of time.
Image: Automated, high-throughput experiments reduce errors associated with human manual handling
These impacts go beyond academic labs and papers; the use of flow cytometry and other microfluidics-based technologies in the clinic is on the rise. The increase in popularity is, perhaps, a combined result of a greater understanding of the technology among clinical scientists, and manufacturers in the space having improved understanding of the requirements and limitations of end-users.
Regardless, it is the patients who reap the benefits in this case, as these technologies allow for accurate diagnoses in a reduced time frame – though diagnostics were an early focus for microfluidics based clinical technologies, in future the possibility of their moving towards a role in treatment increases.
What's Cellix doing at µTAS 2018?
We're lucky to be attending µTAS 2018, where at 15:30 on Monday the 12th November you can see our CEO Vivienne Williams speak on the industrial stage on the topic of 'Microfluidics and high-throughput cell analysis: QC in the beverage industry'.
As mentioned above, we've become involved in several exciting projects involving the application of microfluidic technologies in niche spaces, two of which are discussed here:
Cellix and microfluidics: What's in your beer?
The Inish-Mini Bar, which is the focus of our CEO Vivienne Williams' industrial stage talk on Monday the 12th at µTAS 2018, is a microfluidics-based QC system for breweries and beer line cleaning companies.
The Inish Mini-Bar uses a sample of beer directly from the tap, with no preparation; within minutes, the unit shows a full bacterial and full yeast count. The unit is portable, reusable and comes with a user-friendly interface that can record and transmit the results input into it.
The Inish Mini-Bar is remarkable for a number of reasons; as an easy-to-use solution for those with no background in microfluidics it is a benchmark for user-design in the field, and it is also a great example of microfluidics as an affordable solution for a previously intractable problem.
See our Inish Mini-Bar video here:
2. Cellix and microfluidics: Gene therapy and microfluidics
Our other microfluidics-based project is our Inish Analyser technology. This is a platform technology designed to integrate into cell transfection devices, such as an electroporator. With the Inish Analyser, cells can be analysed as they pass a detector to examine cell health.
When integrated with a cell sorter a sort decision can be made based on the health of a cell; you can choose to keep only healthy cells which may have been transfected, and discard all dead or damaged cells, or cells whose membranes did not open in response to electroporation (and as such, which could not have been transfected).
This technology provides high-thoughput screening and an unprecedented level of detail about the health of cells for gene editing; another example of an exciting use of microfluidics in the CRISPR-era.
See our Inish Analyser explainer:
Find us at µTAS! We're at booth 340, and are always open to discussing microfluidics and our latest work. We'll be posting more as the conference goes on, so watch this space!