Separations and Detection
Yolanda Fintschenko, Ph.D., director of sales, marketing, and new technologies at LabSmith discusses her work on an automated modular interface for microfluidic separations and fluorescent detection. She conducted this work with the team of Holger Becker, Ph.D., co-founder and CSO at microfluidic ChipShop. The two concur with the problems of variability and range as mentioned by Harvard’s Smejkal.
“Current challenges in automation are very application-dependent. For R&D, one of the greatest challenges is having both automation and flexibility. Particularly in the field of microfluidics, researchers and product developers alike go through a fairly long stage of breadboarding their systems,” Dr. Fintschenko says. “However, while transient, this phase is extremely important, with reproducible and accurate data required to move on to the next step. Automation of fluid and sample manipulation, particularly outside the chip where necessary, can be helpful, but it also needs to be flexible.”
Dr. Becker concurs. “One of the main challenges lies in the varying requirements (volumes, flow rates, etc.) from the application side that demand a high degree of flexibility from any automation solution. Furthermore, a lack of standards in the microfluidics world continues to aggravate this problem.”
In November 2010, the companies announced an agreement under which LabSmith will distribute select microfluidic ChipShop chips that are compatible with LabSmith’s CapTite™ microfluidic interconnection products. The idea is to facilitate researchers’ building and rebuilding of microfluidic circuits.
The microfluidic ChipShop chips are also being sold as part of LabSmith’s LabPackage microfluidics laboratory kit that includes LabSmith’s HVS448 high-voltage sequencer, SVM340 synchronized video microscope for real-time visual monitoring and video capture, and SPS01 programmable syringe pumps for volumetrically controlled flow rates, in addition to the CapTite components.
“Our approach is to simplify and standardize tools by focusing on modular components and a breadboard platform designed for ease of use, as well as control of fluid connections, pressure-driven flow, and ease of high-quality visualization,” Dr. Fintschenko says. “Our partnership with microfluidic-ChipShop highlights this approach by allowing us to provide off-the shelf chips that are easily connected to and controlled by these modules.”
Dr. Fintschenko believes that the field of “microfluidics, in particular, has become quite mature. This means we have to continue to understand how the automated control of small volumes, pressure, and electric fields are being taken advantage of by scientists of diverse backgrounds who may not be interested in microfluidics, per se. These scientists want to apply off-the-shelf tools to automate measurements that are very difficult to make in any other way.”
“The message should be that using microfluidics to solve an application doesn’t require a degree in rocket science,” Dr. Becker adds. “We see a significant development in the commercialization of microfluidics as a true enabling technology for analytical sciences, drug discovery, biology, and diagnostics. Some of the early promises, like speeding up the analytical process or integrating a complete analysis on a chip, are becoming reality, and this is very exciting.”