The Programmable Droplets system runs a large number of biological experiments in parallel; these experiments are enabled by programmed electrowetting manipulations including droplet movement on the chip; merging of droplets; stirring of droplets; and incubation of materials.
In comparison to other systems, our work has allowed us to manipulate a range of biological materials on the same surface, and the large surface area can be leveraged for large-scale experiments simultaneously. This work differs from prior art in several other distinct ways:
Fabrication process and electronics: We have optimized the PCB fabrication process to reduce droplet pinning—that is, droplets leave behind smaller amounts of residue than in other systems, and droplets move reliably across the surface at lower actuation voltages (<100V). We use the same type of chip used in touchscreens to sense the location of droplets on every electrode. This sensing functionality allows for quick error correction in droplet motion, and can measure the concentration of cells in a droplet reactor.
Cells: The lower actuation voltages of this system allow for manipulation of cells within droplets without damage to the cells.
Surface coating: A primary technical challenge in the development of the Programmable Droplets system was the surface coating for the chip. Over 18 months, we developed a surface that prevents protein and/or cell droplets from leaving a trail behind as they move on the chip. This means that a library of biological materials can be manipulated on the same surface without cross-contamination.
Using off-the-shelf components allows us to keep the cost of the system down, and also to leverage functionality of already-existing and stable technology.
Biological researchers, drug discovery and biotechnology companies would all benefit from use of the Programmable Droplets system. It is an affordable, method for precision droplet manipulation. The system is easy to program and use, and increases dramatically the range of results possible.
Currently, this work is in the prototype stage and is not available for purchase.
As mentioned above, when biological researchers are able to leverage larger experimental capacity, more--and more varied--results are possible within typical time parameters.
Biologists produce massive amounts of hazardous trash in the form of pipette tips. To reduce the dependency on these large numbers of pipettes, we develop biological protocols that can be run on our chip.
For example, an average drug-discovery company might use as many as one million pipette tips in a week. With the Programmable Droplets system, we aim to dramatically decrease this number by requiring fewer pipette tips over multiple operations.