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Details of Grant 

EPSRC Reference: EP/S036490/1
Title: Deterministic encapsulation of particles and cells through viscoelastic ordering in microfluidic devices
Principal Investigator: Del Giudice, Dr F
Other Investigators:
Researcher Co-Investigators:
Project Partners:
Dolomite Ltd
Department: College of Engineering
Organisation: Swansea University
Scheme: New Investigator Award
Starts: 27 August 2019 Ends: 31 December 2022 Value (£): 262,835
EPSRC Research Topic Classifications:
Complex fluids & soft solids Microsystems
EPSRC Industrial Sector Classifications:
Related Grants:
Panel History:
Panel DatePanel NameOutcome
09 Apr 2019 Engineering Prioritisation Panel Meeting 9 and 10 April 2019 Announced
Summary on Grant Application Form
New techniques which afford the rapid screening of cells to determine the presence of diseases are essential to provide efficient and effective future treatments and to improve patient health outcomes across a broad spectrum of disease states. In the last 30 years, the introduction of micro electro mechanical systems (MEMS) has prompted substantial research to develop miniaturised disease screening equipment based on microfluidic technologies. Such technologies aim to enhance point of care (POC) diagnosis, as a rapid clinical alternative to biopsy or blood tests (results typically between 2-10 days).

The encapsulation of cells together with expensive functionalised particles, called Drop-seq, is currently regarded as the most effective existing single diagnostic platform approach to derive the genome of cells affected by a variety of diseases down to the single-cell level. Although this Drop-seq technology represents the current state of the art, it suffers from a serious drawback as only approximately 10% of the cells involved are encapsulated together with a single functionalised expensive particle. This loss of over 90% of cells and expensive particles in the sensing process is a serious limitation for the screening of rare cells such as circulating tumour cells of which there are only 1/1000 in a typical blood sample. Earlier and more accurate detection of potentially fatal diseases would represent a remarkable advance in healthcare, with substantive reductions in the ongoing health cost burden and significant improvements to the quality of life of each affected individual.

The research proposed aims to exploit advances in viscoelastic flow technology to increase the efficiency of the Drop-seq technique to an unprecedented 100%. To achieve this transformative result the planned work will establish a means to ensure the equal-spacing of cells and functionalised particles before they approach the encapsulation area. This ensures that a single cell is encapsulated with a single particle, in a single droplet (a process referred to herein as deterministic encapsulation). Thus, the Drop-seq becomes deterministic when the frequency of droplet formation is synchronised with the frequency of particles and cells approaching the encapsulation area. Henceforth, the efficiency of the Drop-seq technology becomes 100%, rather than the mere 10% currently obtained.

The project will be carried out in conjunction with an industry partner that is recognised as the world leader in the design and manufacture of pioneering microfluidic products.

The objectives of the research are as follows:

(1) Achieving cell ordering in straight channel; (2) Achieving continuous formation of viscoelastic droplets with uniform sizes and shapes; (3) Encapsulation of single particles in viscoelastic droplets with uniform size distribution; (4) Encapsulation of single cells in viscoelastic droplets.

The research, which will achieve unprecedented disease detection capability, has substantive potential impacts, both in terms of healthcare outcomes and economic benefits. It will provide a basis for transforming the accuracy of detection for diseases such as lung, prostate, breast and bowel cancers, which currently account for more than half the types of cancer and lead to premature death. Beneficiaries will therefore include patients and healthcare professionals. Specifically, the POC testing approach has special relevance to healthcare professional working in remote locations. Examples include GP surgeries, clinics in remote locations or even within pharmacies. Our project partner is well placed to drive the research outputs to commercialisation and economic gain- on a global basis. Furthermore, widespread technical benefits in diverse fields including Process Engineering and Advanced Manufacturing may be anticipated to arise from enhanced knowledge of the innovative uses of viscoelastic flows within microfluidic settings.

Key Findings
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Organisation Website: http://www.swan.ac.uk