Wallet-sized labs the next big thing

Wallet-sized labs the next big thing

RMIT researchers are developing inexpensive, portable toxicology laboratories so small you could fit them in your wallet.

Associate Professor Donald Wlodkowic, a bioengineering specialist, is working on the development of microfluidic chips for toxicology and drug discovery testing.

"Current laboratory instrumentation is bulky, expensive and power hungry," Associate Professor Wlodkowic says.

"So the question is how can we make this instrumentation very affordable and user friendly?

"We are developing chip-based technologies for testing in predictive toxicology, environmental toxicology and also drug discovery.

"We want to miniaturise the amount of reagents and materials used so we can quickly and cheaply screen for new drugs and detect toxins."

Microfluidics allows Associate Professor Wlodkowic and his team to dramatically reduce the reagents and materials used.

"Lab-on-a-Chip" is a well-known phrase for the scientific community.

Vice-Chancellor's Senior Research Fellow, Associate Professor Donald Wlodkowic.

By designing a lab-on-a-chip using microfluidic principles, researchers can - for example - generate laminar fluid diffusion interfaces (LFDIs).

LFDIs are two or more fluid streams flowing in parallel in a single microfluidic channel.

The principles of fluid flow in micro-scale do not allow the fluids to mix other than by diffusion across an adjacent stream boundary.

The chip can mimic the drug response in single cells or microorganisms and enables researchers to achieve highly specific activation or identification of drugs and toxins.

Using these principles Professor Wlodkowic, an RMIT Vice-Chancellor's Senior Research Fellow, is designing and manufacturing microfluidic bioanalytical technologies and hoping to advance the technology for a range of innovative applications.

The team is developing and manufacturing a range of highly innovative chip-based technologies for the Department of Molecular Medicine and Pathology at the University of Auckland (New Zealand), Tufts Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology at TUFTS University (USA) and the Australian Regenerative Medicine Institute (ARMI) at Monash University.

"ARMI will be using these innovative chips for spinal and neurology research," Professor Wlodkowic says.

"They are aiming to develop new drugs in the hope to heal and repair spinal injuries."

Professor Wlodkowic's research team is also working on breakthrough, miniaturized systems for water quality monitoring.

Lab-on-a-chip technology has a range of applications - from medical research to water quality testing.

"Maintaining clean water supply by supporting healthy waterways and coastal zones is critical for the integrity of Australia's environment, and for sustainable supply of drinking water and water for Australian agriculture," he says.

"Rapid and accurate water quality monitoring systems are key to water quality improvement.

"We are developing a new generation of economical miniaturized biocybernetic instrumentation for rapid water quality monitoring.

"This project will introduce a paradigm shift in the way we perform environmental monitoring."

The pioneering Australian Research Council-funded work is designed for use by non-specialists, and will be applicable for governmental, industrial and community projects.

Associate Professor Wlodkowic is a Vice-Chancellor's Senior Research Fellow, ARC DECRA fellow and director of The OpenTech Factory at RMIT, based in the School of Applied Sciences.

He is also aligned with the Platform Technologies Research Institute, the Centre of Additive Manufacturing and MicroNano Research Facility.

27 October 2014

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27 October 2014

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