Monday, 07 February 2011 12:30
Utkan Demirci, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, wants doctors to take one look at his invention and "trash it." That's no knock on the device, a fast, easy-to-use--and disposable--test that measures the concentration of CD4 cells in the blood; doctors use that number to monitor HIV infections.
The size of a business card, this microfluidic instrument provides an accurate cell count in less than three minutes. At less than a buck apiece, the tests, which could reach the market in a few years, could literally be a lifesaver in HIV-ridden poor countries.
Demirci developed his expertise in microfluidics as a PhD student in electrical engineering. As part of his thesis, he devised a way to print semiconductor polymers by shooting sound waves through a small reservoir of fluid, squirting out millions of droplets per second. Now an assistant professor in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, he's adapting his printing technique to give doctors a way to grow new organs for transplant patients. Many tissue engineers build organ-shaped scaffolds, then coat them with cells, using conventional ink-jet printing techniques. Alas, the process "cooks" most of the cells. By replacing the polymers in Demirci's printer with cells, engineers can deposit one unharmed cell with each droplet. Demirci hopes to use the method to begin building his first organ next year. He's starting with one of the most challenging: the human heart.
Dr. Demirci's laboratory specializes in applying micro- and nano-scale technologies to problems in medicine. They have been focusing on three major problems.
(i) Global Health: More than 35 million HIV-infected people live in the developing world, where resources are scarce. They have been developing low-cost diagnostic devices for global health problems, such as counting CD4+ T lymphocytes in HIV infected patients at resource limited settings. The absolute number of CD4+ T lymphocytes in blood is vital for evaluating HIV-infected patients and has important prognostic and therapeutic implications. Currently, these values are obtained through using a flow cytometer, which is a very expensive method. Moreover, They aim to develop technologies to capture various cell types from blood using nanoparticles, and microscale technologies.
(ii) Tissue Engineering: Dr. Demirci's lab appies acoustic wave expertise to create picoliter-sized droplets that encapsulate single cells. Their objective is to develop technology to print these droplets for cell-by-cell 3-dimensional tissue generation.
(iii) Microfluidics for Cryopreservation: Cell encapsulating droplets have medical applications including single to few cell cryopreservation. They have demonstrated that they can vitrify cells encapsulated in cryoprotectant droplets. This creates a new regime for biopreservation using cell encapsulating droplets. Being able to vitrify at low cryoprotectant concentrations decreases the possible osmotic shock to cells and cytotoxicity levels within the cell.
Awards:2008 The Outstanding Young Persons of the World, Junior Chamber International (JCI) 2007 Honorary Nano-Biotechnology Award, National Science Council of Turkey and The Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association 2006 TR-35, World's top 35 innovators under the age of 35, Technology Review 2005 Turkish Ministry of Education, Honor of the Year Award 2004 1st Place Winner of Accenture Grand Prize at Global Startup at Singapore Business Plan Competition 2004 1st Place of Stanford University Entrepreneur's Challenge Competition 2003 Outstanding Paper Award, IEEE Ultrasonic, Ferroelectrics, and Frequency Control 1996 Presidential Fellowship of Excellence from Turkish Ministry of Education