Harnessing the potential of microfluidics applications is underway in every corner of the globe, and stretching out to deep space as well.
In Japan, cancer researchers are building microfluidic chip cell sorters for capture and analysis of Circulating Tumor Cells (CTC), an endeavor that historically has ranged from challenging to impossible. Their “On‐chip Sort” detected and captured rare CTCs from patients with lung adenocarcinoma, which have typically been undetectable. Mutation detection using isolated CTCs is their next goal.
Austrian scientists at Vienna’s Institute of Molecular Biotechnology are creating lab-grown brain organoids. Brain tumors’ thickly tentacled structure makes them hard to remove surgically. Molecular characteristics make it difficult to map the winding journey that cancers travel. Glioblastoma in particular links up with blood vessels, feeding cancer cells to grow and spread quickly.
IMBA researchers report that their organoids-in-a-dish allow them to replicate carcinogenesis. They can observe onset at early stages, and monitor the tumor growing, in ways previously not possible. Their neoplastic organoids reproduce unique neural aspects, such as an array of cell types and development stages. This provides a way to see how tumors arise. The Vienna researchers can also test different therapies in the dish.
At Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, scientists are investigating micro-optofluidics and micro-magnetofluidics. Micro-optofluidics engineers explore the interaction between fluid flow and light, for new applications. The combination of magnetism and fluid flow reveals the path toward research into micro-magnetofluidics.
In the U.S., researchers at Texas Technology are growing artificial corneas-on-chips to measure how much eye medication reaches its target. This is commonly tested utilizing rabbit eyes. The Texas scientists’ aim to reduce the use of animal testing for eye medication.
“Nobody knows how much eye medicine is really released into the eye because of certain barriers,” one of the researchers explained. “The first barrier is the cornea. The cornea itself is made up of five layers of cells. Companies usually use rabbit eyes because of structural similarity with slow blinking speed.” However, such tests don’t replicate the process inside the of the human cornea. The corneas-on-chips mimic corneal constraints, enabling realistic analyses of permeability.
Researchers in Massachusetts developed a microfluidic assay that detected sepsis infection from just one drop of blood. Sepsis is potentially fatal. Sepsis develops from lesser infections, when infection-fighting processes trigger inflammation that can damage organs, causing them to fail. Prompt diagnoses and early treatment increase the survival rate. The mortality rate for septic shock is nearly 50 percent.
Quick diagnosis is crucial because sepsis symptoms are typical of other disorders. Multiple assessments are sometimes needed, including heart rate and respiration rate; blood tests; X-rays, ultrasound, MRIs or CT scans; liver/kidney function tests and electrolyte imbalances. The assessment might mean obtaining data from multiple unconnected sources. Electronic systems that link data together, and automatically analyze and monitor information, facilitate quick treatment. But they can fail, resulting in false positive or false negative indications.
So an uncomplicated method of diagnosis, with one drop of blood, would be not only striking but life-altering. The researchers’ “assay identified sepsis patients with 97 percent sensitivity and 98 percent specificity,” they reported.
And then there’s deep space. Minus the constraints of gravity, astronauts learn the limits of physiology in space, as well as the limits of the earthly-made equipment. In case they need tools customizable for unanticipated tasks, 3D printing technology is now onboard the International Space Station, or ISS.No need to return all the way back to Earth for that special wrench. In addition to 3D printing of tools, research is underway into the possibility of biofabrication in space. Investigation of cellular function in space shows organoids may have a role in 3D bioprinting, for organ replacement during deep space travel.
So there might be no need to return all the way back to Earth for that wrench — or that medical treatment either.
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Kathy Jean Schultz
Kathy Jean Schultz is a freelance medical science writer who focuses on medical innovations. She earned a Master’s Degree in Research Methodology from Hofstra University, and a Master’s Degree in Psychology from Long Island University. She is a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and the Association of Health Care Journalists. Her articles about organoids include "Would you trust a 3-D printed mini organ to test your drugs?" and "Stem cells not only slow disease, they come with their own safety test".