RELEASES
EXPERTS
NOTICIAS EN ESPAñOL
photo services
news staff
BROADCAST
U-M IN THE NEWS RESEARCH NEWS
VP COMMUNICATIONS
Marketing & Design
Tips for faculty
Publications
UNIVERSITY RECORD RECORD UPDATE MICHIGAN TODAY
Social Networks
FACEBOOK TWITTER YOUTUBE MOST EMAILED
 
412 MAYNARD STREET
ANN ARBOR, MI
48109-1399
PHONE: (734)764-7260
FAX: (734) 764-7084


Nov. 1, 2004

 

Student’s winning invention enables “animal on a chip”

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—As a boy, Wei Gu taught himself to write computer software for the electronic games he liked to play. Today, the University of Michigan senior uses his programming skills for slightly loftier pursuits: he writes computer instructions that direct cells and other fluids through channels on a microchip, so that those cells think they’re in the body.

Illustration by "Nobuyuki Futai"

Gu developed a novel approach to switching microfluidic channels on an off, relying on an off-the-shelf system of raised pins used to help Braille readers interpret computer displays.

The research earned Gu a first place in the undergraduate category of the Collegiate Inventor’s Competition in October, and the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has accepted a paper on the findings, “Computerized Microfluidic Cell Culture Using Elastomeric Channels and Braille Displays,” for publication. Gu is first author on the paper.

In Gu’s device, the pins that help Braille readers feel raised dots representing letters are used instead to pinch and un-pinch parts of the microfluidic plumbing, changing the course that fluids can take through the device.

Shuichi Takayama, Gu’s advisor and an assistant professor of biomedical engineering, says the first application of the invention will be for an “animal on a chip” which might be used for clinical diagnostics, drug development, or biosensors. There are many potential applications, and the intellectual property has been protected.

“We are exploring many options for commercialization,” said Karen Studer-Rabeler, associate director for new business development in the Office of Technology Transfer. “This is certainly something where you could see that happening.”

Takayama envisions tiny wells of living tissue, each a different sort -- muscle, bone, lung, and so on -- connected by a tiny circulatory system, all packaged in a system about the size of a big calculator. It wouldn’t be quite the same as a laboratory mouse, but functionally, it may come close enough to approximate the real thing.

“It may be ethically more palatable than using lab animals, and most importantly, you could use real human cells to run these tests,” Takayama said.  

For now, the microfluidic channels are 300 microns wide and 30 microns high.

“To allow cells to work like real tissues, we don’t want the channels to be too big or too small,” Takayama said. The current design has channels of about 10-20 cells wide.

In its initial state, several distinct wells on the device would be seeded with undifferentiated stem cells, the blank slates of biology. Each of these wells would then be given the right chemical mixture, including hormones and nutrients, to signal the stem cells to develop into a particular kind of tissue.

Once the cells have developed distinct identities, the microfluidic channels would be rerouted to allow the different wells of living tissue to exchange fluids. Then, a drug candidate might be flowed through the device to see what effect it has on different kinds of tissue.

Gu believes that microfluidic machines could become powerful diagnostic tools for doctors, or allow patients to monitor their health more precisely than is possible today.  

 “I think in the future these devices will be as common as cell phones or laptops,” Gu said. 

Takayama Lab >

The University of Michigan College of Engineering is ranked among the top engineering schools in the country. Michigan Engineering boasts one of the largest research budgets of any public university, at $139 million for 2003. Michigan Engineering has 11 departments and two NSF Engineering Research Centers. Within those departments and centers, there is a special emphasis on research in three emerging industries: Nanotechnology and integrated microsystems; cellular and molecular biotechnology; and information technology. The College is seeking to raise $110 million for capital building projects and program support in these areas to further research discovery. The CoE’s goal is to advance academic scholarship and market cutting edge research to improve public heath and well-being.

For more information see the CoE home page: http://www.engin.umich.edu/index.html

Contact: Laura Bailey
Phone: (734) 647-1848 or (734) 647-7087
E-mail: baileylm@umich.edu

or

Contact: Karl Leif Bates
Phone: (734) 647-1842
E-mail: batesk@umich.edu