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"VERTICAL MICROFLUIDIC PROBE: A nanoliter ""Swiss army knife"" for chemistry and physics at biological interfaces" (BioProbe)
Start date: Jan 1, 2013, End date: Dec 31, 2017 PROJECT  FINISHED 

Life is fundamentally characterised by order, compartmentalisation and biochemical reactions, which occurs at the right place right time – within, on the surface and between cells. Only a proportion of life processes can be addressed with contemporary approaches like liquid encapsulations (e.g. droplets) or engineering compartments (e.g. scaffolds). I believe these approaches are severely limited. I am convinced that a technique to study, work and locally probe adherent cells & tissues at micrometer distances from cell surfaces in “open space” would represent a major advance for the biology of biointerfaces. I therefore propose a non-contact, scanning technology, which spatially confines nanoliter volumes of chemicals for interacting with cells at the µm-length scale. This technology called the vertical microfluidic probe (vMFP) – that I developed at IBM-Zurich – shapes liquid on surfaces hydrodynamically and is compatible with samples on Petri dishes & microtiter plates. The project is organized in 4 themes:(1) Advancing the vMFP by understanding the interaction of liquid flows with biointerfaces, integrating functional elements (e.g. heaters/electrodes, cell traps) & precision control.(2) Developing a higher resolution method to stain tissue sections for multiple markers & better quality information.(3) Retrieving rare elements such as circulating tumor cells from biologically diverse libraries.(4) Patterning cells for applications in regenerative medicine.Since cells & tissues will no longer be limited by closed systems, the vMFP will enable a completely new range of experiments to be performed in a highly interactive, versatile & precise manner – this approach departs from classical “closed” microfluidics. It is very likely that such a tool by providing multifunctional capabilities akin to the proverbial ‘Swiss army knife’ will be a unique facilitator for investigations of previously unapproachable problems in cell biology & the life science.
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