Diagnosing disease at the ultimate limit of single cells and single molecules
The past decade has witnessed measurement at the quantum limits of biology: 1. Single nucleic acids are measured massively in parallel (e.g. with digital PCR), 2. The presence of single proteins can be amplified and measured (e.g. with digital ELISA), and 3. The surge in number of approaches analyzing the content of many single-cells massively in parallel. The ability to measure single cells and molecules provides valuable information on the heterogeneity of human tissue and the progression of diseases, thus pushing the very limit of diagnostics. Despite the exciting breakthroughs of single entity assays, the adoption of these technologies has been limited due to the requirement of significant new infrastructure and expertise. To address this issue, we are developing simple and robust platforms to create and operate on sub-nanoliter volumes, all with minimal instrumentation. We utilize the unique properties of ferrofluids to create uniform sub-nanoliter droplets and manipulate them with simple motions of magnets instead of complex pumps. Such a platform enables pump-free microfluidics and by using cell-phone readers, we achieved portable readings of digital assays. We also produce lab-on-a-particle systems, which can be optimized to suit desirable applications, such as cell adhesion, nucleic acid or protein binding, as well as encapsulation and segregation of uniformly sized aqueous volumes. We envision a collection of these approaches will lay the foundation for Quantum Diagnostic Platforms that can accelerate the adoption of these most sensitive possible single-entity assays.
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