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Nanotech News

May 1, 2006

Challenges and Opportunities in Designing Microfluidics to Study Single Cells

An important area of nanoscale research involves developing microfluidic devices capable of trapping individual cells for study under a variety of conditions. While progress is being made in this endeavor, a perspective look at this nascent field notes that there are still many challenges that must be overcome to achieve real-time sensing of individual cell behavior. Yet at the same time, the authors of this paper present examples of emerging experiment microfluidic platforms that have the potential for solving these very problems.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, Brian Helmke, Ph.D., of the University of Virginia, and Adrienne Minerick, Ph.D., of Mississippi State University, began their paper summarizing discussions that occurred as part of a National Academies Keck Future Initiatives conference held in November 2004. These discussions centered on the challenges and opportunities facing researchers who are designing nanostructures capable of interacting with biological systems, with a primary focus on the need to measure single-cell responses, rather than the average response from millions of cells, to a wide variety of biochemical and genetic stimuli.

The authors then describe some of the advances being made using microfluidic devices that can isolate individual cells in chambers or channels fitted with a variety of sensors. They note that investigators have taken a number of approaches to create such devices but that this field has significant room for new techniques that would improve cell trapping and new sensing technologies for more thoroughly studying cells responses to external and internal stimuli. In particular, the authors comment on the need to develop ways of multiplexing measurement technologies in order to acquire different types of data simultaneously and in real time.

In their perspective, the authors also call on the research community to extend development efforts to create devices capable of measuring how individual cells interact with other cells under conditions that mimic normal and disease states. Such devices are critically needed to better understand how various cellular systems interact with one another in diseases such as cancer. Ultimately, such devices could form the basis of a new approach to drug development and screening that would be faster, use fewer resources, and yield more predictive results than current cell-based and animal-based assays.

This perspective is detailed in a paper titled, “Designing a nano-interface in a microfluidic chip to probe living cells: Challenges and perspectives.” An abstract of this paper is available through PubMed.
View abstract.