What does the Future of Microfluidics within Research Look Like?
Thought LeadersFrance HamberCEOFluigent
Please can you introduce yourself and tell us about your role at Fluigent?
After an engineering degree, a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, and 15 years in a innovative, international group, I became the CEO of Fluigent in 2015.
I am focused on building and implementing a successful and ambitious strategy, based on disruptive innovations and high-end products as well as customer satisfaction to meet the needs of the research market and to conquest the industrial market.
Fluigent helps to develop advanced fluid control systems for microfluidics. Can you tell us more about Fluigent and some of your aims and missions?
Microfluidics brings a revolution to the industry comparable to the invention of microprocessors in information processing. Its potential for research and industry is immense, particularly thanks to the miniaturization, automation, high throughput capabilities which enables the generation of results, e.g. carrying out analyzes (NGS, DNA, pathogen detection). It also decreases the consumption of samples and reagents, reduces the duration of the experiments, and reduces the overall costs of the experiments.
It is viewed as an essential tool for life science research, or in a larger way in biotechnologies, for both academic researchers and industrial groups. For example, it allows:
- The development of new custom therapeutic treatments
- The acceleration in the discovery of new medicines and vaccines by reducing time and cost
- The reproduction of a living human organ at a microscopic scale
- The reduction of animal testing by testing new drugs on in vitro models (organs on chips)
- Low environmental impact
One key success factor for these applications is the precise control of fluids flowing through the chips. Traditional syringes or peristaltic pumps are struggling to deliver the right level of performance. As a result, there was a need for faster, more stable, and precise technology for fluid handling at the microscale.
Fluigent was the first company to solve this problem by introducing an innovative technology; pressure pumps. Fluigent’s unique broad range of solutions for use in microfluidics and nanofluidics applications ensures full control of flow rates with greater control, automation, precision, ease of use, and no contamination. Fluigent has delivered thousands of patented pressure-based flow controllers systems to hundreds of customers worldwide.
A research lab can use Fluigent’s ready-to-go instruments for a broad range of applications where fluid control is critical. Industrial companies are able to integrate Fluigent’s technology to enhance and improve their own products also.
Our aim is to improve everyday life, and save lives by accelerating tomorrow's discoveries, their time to market, and their impact on society.
Image Credit: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock.com
Microfluidics has a wide variety of applications within the life sciences industry including cell biology, particle analysis, and biosensors. How are your instruments and solutions able to adapt to the different sectors?
Our instruments are versatile and can be used for a wide variety of applications where fluid control is critical, thanks to;
- Fluigent’s pressure controllers are not in contact with the liquids and thus allow sterility.
- Fluigent’s expertise as the in-house regulation algorithm is able to adapt and bring performant control to a variety of fluids, fluidic paths, and applications.
- An easy-to-use and performant software solution allowing to monitor, control all Fluigent devices from a unique end-user interface, or develop custom software applications. The software extends the instrument's capabilities and access to features such as automation and data record.
- The Fluigent instruments are designed and thought to be easy to use, rapidly handled by a variety of scientists, biologists, and engineers.
You currently offer a wide variety of smart microfluidic instruments for research. Can you tell us more about some of your products and what advantages they have compared to other microfluidics instruments available?
Our offer covers a wide variety of fluid handling solutions for research and industries. Our core products are pressure-based pumps, they are used with control devices (valves, switches) and measurement devices (pressure, flow, flow rate sensors), as well as software which together constitutes a platform from which any microfluidic experiment can be performed.
Compared to syringe and peristaltic pumps, pressure-based pumps allow for more stable, faster, contact-free, and precise control of the fluids.
To illustrate, I will use the example of micrometer droplets and particles – widely used in a broad range of industries, such as digital PCR and single-cell encapsulation.
Droplet production using microfluidic systems was implemented for applications where monodispersity is of high importance. The droplet size being proportional to the flow rate, a stable flow rate is critical for having repeatable reactor volume and reproducible results. Syringe pumps are commonly used for generating droplets in microfluidic experiments but can show limited flow control. As a consequence, the droplet size is affected.
As an alternative to syringe pumps, pressure-based flow controllers enable highly stable flows, generating highly mono-disperse droplets, enabling better control and reproducibility of results.
Image Credit: Fluigent
On your website, you state that your ‘microfluidic technologies allow you to focus on the science, not on the setup’. Why is this so important for innovation?
Scientists or industrials must focus on where they will bring their highest value: discoveries, new applications, new devices, etc.
At the beginning of Fluigent, 15 years ago, we were facing scientists who were developing and assembling their own fluid control devices. For example, a Ph.D. student will spend 6 months building their own device before starting their biological experiments. I believe these 6 months were lost to just end up with a piece of average equipment. The student will then only have the rest of their time to help the science progress.
Our value proposition is to offer ready-to-use, high-end products so that users can focus on what matters! By enabling scientists to focus on science we believe that we accelerate innovation and discoveries. By enabling engineers to work on the development of new tools for diagnostics, therapeutics, new devices – we believe that we are accelerating their time to market and their impact on society.
The life sciences industry has seen tremendous breakthroughs in recent years due to advances in technology and artificial intelligence (AI). What role does technology play in new discoveries? Do you see the role of technology within research becoming more prominent in years to come?
For me, technology plays an essential role in new discoveries by giving new tools, new possibilities to go beyond the limits, the way of thinking. I will illustrate with an example from one of our customers.
He compared the traditional robotic method to the droplet microfluidic method to perform ultra-high-throughput screening of an enzyme. For the same number of reactions (50 million), he was able to decrease the time needed from 2 years with a robot to 7 hours using microfluidics. I think that this is a good example of how technology can be a strong game-changer.
Technology is also improving patient care with new treatments, new diagnostics tools (medical imaging, Point of Care or Point of Need diagnostics), and new tools for surgeons (robots).
An interesting example is MRI as it was primarily used as a tool for researchers and scientists and has been very well adopted by doctors to perform daily exams. That’s a great example of lab technology which is now part of the routine at the hospital!
Despite these breakthroughs, there are still many challenges that need to be overcome when adopting new technology in research. What do you believe to be some of the biggest challenges currently faced by the life sciences industry and how can we overcome them?
I will give a few examples, which are close to our applications. The path from traditional drugs to immunotherapies, using the immune system to fight against some diseases remain a challenge.
Personalized medicine is another example, with several directions to explore:
- Understanding and correlating the characteristics of an individual – determined by its genetics, epigenetics, and individual specificity – to therapies, thanks to computing and IA. This should lead to either new treatment/drugs or to dedicated treatment
- Developing methods and instruments to test different therapies on THE cancer of THE patient. Here microfluidics can help with miniaturized, automated solutions.
There is also a challenge in reducing quantities of cells or blood collected for diagnostics or fine-tuning targeted therapies.
The controlled release of a drug after ingestion could be another example. When you take a drug today, the dose is usually higher as the immune system will suppress part of it; it is too high at the beginning and then too low. Here again, microfluidics can help to overcome this issue by encapsulating the IPA and thus allowing a regular, progressive diffusion of the drug in our bodies.
Image Credit: irinabdw/Shutterstock.com
Looking to the future, are they any particular sectors within the life sciences industry that people should be paying particular attention to?
There are many new technologies under assessment or development today. I believe that Organ on a chip and spheroids cultures, which are capable of mimicking human living organs, could be a game-changer in the development and the selection of new drugs.
Indeed, this is one of the unpleasant truths about clinical studies: even after the most careful preclinical studies on rodents, 80% of drugs are not effective on humans. However, a series of such studies can cost millions of dollars.
These new technologies enable scientists to develop models of human organs by the culture of cells under conditions close to the physiological environment, which helps evaluate and predict human response depending on the purpose of the study: it could be in vitro testing of drugs, toxins, and therapy, for example.
The main advantages are the shortened development time, suppressing the species barrier, reducing the number of animals used for the trials resulting in reducing the costs of this long development.
What is next for Fluigent? Are there any exciting upcoming projects that you are involved with?
We have several disruptive technologies in the pipeline that will enable us to unlock some of the actual limitations of microfluidics (for example pushing the limits of miniaturization, connectivity, measurements or data, etc.).
This summer we will be launching OMI, a pocket-size, connected, portable organ on a chip platform to mimic living organs. The in vitro models that are enabled by OMI provide significant advances in the understanding of aging, in the ability to personalize treatments in record time, in developing drugs, and in studying infectious diseases. Experiments are simplified, automated, and more reliable – whilst drastically reducing experiments on animals
Where can readers find more information?
About France Hamber
After an engineering degree and a Ph.D. in chemical engineering, I joined Air Liquide group where I held management positions in technology and innovation-intensive fields and had the opportunity to bring products from R&D to industrial production.
I became the CEO of Fluigent in 2015 and I am focused on building and implementing a successful and ambitious strategy, based on disruptive innovations and high-end products as well as customer satisfaction to meet the needs of the research market and conquest the industrial market.
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