The micro.nano.Engineering Laboratory focuses on the development of innovative micro-nano-bio-engineering tools that can not only greatly advance our understanding of cell mechanics and biology, but also be easily commercialized and translated to widely-distributed commodities for cell-based therapeutics, point-of-care diagnostics, cell mechanics, and micro-/nano-technologies.
1. Separation Science and Technology
Cell abnormalities are important indicators of a range of clinical conditions such as some cancers, autoimmune diseases, and infectious diseases. Diseased cells are often difficult targets to probe due to their low concentration in heterogeneous samples. Effective cell separation methods are essential for cell-based diagnostics and therapeutics. Microfluidics offers unique characteristics suitable for cell separation such as precise, gentle cell control and unprecedentd separation performance, but there is no commercially available separation technology capable of high-throughput and high-purity separation with ease of use. Thus, we are trying to bypass these limitations by developing new separation principles that enable high-throughput, high-purity separation with improved device usability.
2. Open-source Bioengineering Tools
Open-source hardware projects such as Arduino have risen in popularity and became an important tool of introducing hardware concepts to aspiring engineers/scientists and bringing engineering design out of labs. Do-it-yourself biology is an open-source hardware project to make available bioengineering tools and thus provide a low barrier to entry for newcomers and experienced engineers/scientist alike, thereby promoting technology innovation by them. In this context, we are developing new modular platforms that modularize all the parts that can make up bio-instruments and construct totally new bio-instruments simply by assembling the part modules with a high degree of design freedom.
Flow cytometry is a powerful technology to analyze multiple phenotypes of individual cells at a high-throughput scale, and commonly used in many applications from basic research to clinical practice. Miniaturizing conventional bench-top flow cytometers has great potential, but efforts to obviate the need for their bulky, expensive, complex pump-based fluidic and laser-based optical systems have not yet been successful. To address these critical challenges, we are developing novel fluidic and optical principles that offer a new possibility of truly portable flow cytometric analysis.
4. AI (artificial intelligence)-based Diagnostics
Molecular diagnostics using blood can provide the molecular signatures of various maladies such as infection, inflammation, and tumor progression reflecting physiological and pathological conditions. Rapid, point-of-care (POC) assays are ideal for blood tests that target plasma molecules, which can be unstable; for example, plasma proteins can rapidly degrade after blood collection and the half-life of cell-free DNA is known to range from minutes to hours. Developing simple, portable, rapid, and easy-to-use diagnostic technologies is essential for POC blood molecular testing. Thus, we are developing integrated microfluidic devices desirable for POC testing and improving their precision and accuracy in diagnostics using machine-learning algorithms.