University of Toronto Scientist Driving Cell Culture Revolution
Dr. Aaron Wheeler from the University of Toronto has developed the first microfluidic system for “complete” cell culture (with passaging), powered by digital microfluidics. This system offers the advantage of using only a fraction of reagents usually required in cell culture and of automating and accelerating tedious manual tasks.
In a review article published in Science in 2008 (1), Dr. Wheeler described the phenomenon of electrowetting which utilizes the conductive properties of liquids to move droplets around a surface wetting it in the process. Dr. Wheeler’s lab has taken advantage of this phenomenon and is engaged in the study of digital microfluidics to perform lab analysis in an array-based environment.
One of the more fascinating inventions from the Wheeler lab involves growing cells in droplets on electric adhesion pads (as opposed to culture flasks or plates) which enables them (and other liquids/reagents that are added to the plate) to be moved around by an electric current. The advantages to performing cell culture in a digital microfluidics environment include simple cell passaging, and the ability to automate the combination of various reagents into the cell culture on a nanoscale level (think automated cell transfection in miniature).
The device dispenses 70-nanolitre droplets from reservoirs and then moves, merges, and mixes them by applying a sequence of voltages to an array of electrodes.
Wheeler’s research has recently made the cover of the June 21st edition of Lab on a Chip.
Dr. Wheeler’s research has also made the national news with a story on Global describing how digital microfluidics has the potential to help eliminate the need for painful biopsies in breast cancer patients.
Wheeler, A. (2008). CHEMISTRY: Putting Electrowetting to Work Science, 322 (5901), 539-540 DOI: 10.1126/science.1165719