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February 2015
An Interview with Dino Di Carlo
21 Jan 2015

Dr Dino Di Carlo is speaking at the forthcoming Lab-on-a-Chip & Microfluidics conference that is being held in Berlin on the 17th and 18th March 2015.  We caught up with him earlier this month:

SELECTBIO: What are some of the key points concerning recent advances in microfluidics you plan to cover during your keynote speech?

Dino: It has been clear over the last decade that microfluidics can contribute to molecular analysis of cells, automating and speeding up reactions and separations, and performing analyses in formats that are portable. Molecular analyses will continue to be important in diagnostics as they can enable readouts of root causes of diseases that have a small number of “driving” pathways that are aberrant. I will discuss recent work on using microtechnologies to quantify and automate the analysis of physical properties of cells. These types of measurements can be rapid, cost-effective, and integrate many molecular changes into functional phenotypic changes that are indicative of disease. We feel there are significant opportunities in diagnostics and drug discovery that make use of physical biomarkers of cells. I will discuss some of the technologies we have developed and application areas we are pursuing.

SELECTBIO: What do you feel are the current challenges in microfluidics and Lab-on-a-Chip technologies?

Dino: I think we now have a good understanding of fundamental operations that can be performed in microfluidic formats and many of the challenges now revolve around integrating components to address needs in the lowest cost, simplest, and robust manner.

SELECTBIO: Tell us more about the intersection of biology and engineering at the micro and nanoscale; what makes this area so exciting?

Dino: Micro & nanotechnologies we can fabricate intrinsically match the scales of cells and molecules. It is extremely exciting that we can now interface with biology at its scale. Further automation of biological discovery using miniaturization and arraying is also powerful and I think will enable exponential increases in understanding of biological systems.

SELECTBIO: What sparked your interest in microfluidics and Lab-on-a-Chip; i.e., how did you get started in the field?

Dino: I was first interested in genetic engineering and prior to my undergraduate education I was under the impression that scientists had cracked biology and could rationally “engineer” cell behaviour. It turns out this is only possible in a limited number of cases, although new tools for genome editing are being developed that are extremely exciting. I came to the realization that we need to accelerate the rate of biological discovery for true engineering of cellular systems to be possible and microfluidics technology was a great enabler for such a goal.

SELECTBIO: What are some of the more interesting findings that have come about as a result of your investigations using microfluidics and Lab-on-a-Chip?

Dino: My investigations introduced the effects of fluid momentum (inertia) as a useful physical tool to manipulate particles, cells, and fluids in microfluidic systems. Using these passive forces one can, for example, perform sample preparation and analysis steps on cells in a controlled manner and at high rates.

SELECTBIO: What are some of the innovations you think will occur in the area of microfluidics and Lab-on-a-Chip methodologies in the future? 

Dino: Compartmentalization of samples into small (picoliter or smaller) volumes has been a useful feature for a variety of molecular and cellular analyses. I envision that we will see other clever assays that rely on compartmentalization for diagnostics. I also see that microfluidic logic (i.e. control of microfluidic operations with logic gates that rely on flow of fluids not electrons) will see a revival and may open up future automation in low cost formats. I think 3D printing will play an increasingly important role in microfluidic porotyping as well.

Posted By: Dino Di Carlo

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