Author Archive

MMB 2018

The 9th International Conference on Microtechnologies in Medicine and Biology (MMB 2018) is being held in California, USA on March 26-28, 2018

The primary purpose of the conference is to foster interactions between biologists and medical researchers; chemists, physicists and engineers to enhance and strengthen the potential of microtechnologies in revolutionizing the fields of medicine and biological sciences through the development of new research tools and technologies.

The conference is set to have a great talks, with Keynote lectures from Seok “Sid” Chung, Korea University; Jianping Fu, University of Michigan; Amy Herr, University of California, Berkeley; Henry Hess, Columbia University; Marianna Kruithof-de Julio, University of Bern; and Milica Radisic, University of Toronto.

Key Dates:

Late News deadline: 6th February 2018

Early Bird Registration: 13th February 2018

Regular Registration: 21st March 2018

 

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Art in Science Competition Winner Announced at MicroTAS 2017

Lab on a Chip and the National Institute of Standards Technology (NIST) were pleased to present the Art in Science award at the µTAS 2017 Conference on 26 October 2017. The award highlights the aesthetic value in scientific illustrations while still conveying scientific merit. Many fantastic submissions were received this year with the winner selected by Maria SouthallLab on a Chip Deputy EditorDarwin Reyes, NIST and Petra DittrichLab on a Chip Associate Editor member.

And the winner is…

Give Bubbles a Chance
Maria Cristina Letizia, EPFL, SWITZERLAND

 

Runners up are…

Reflections
Dorothea Helmer, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, GERMANY

Mondrian’s Micropillars
Eloise Pariset, CEA – LETI, FRANCE

A big thank you to all the contributors this year!

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Emerging Investigator Series – Wilbur Lam

We are delighted to introduce our latest Lab on a Chip Emerging Investigator, Wilbur Lam!

Wilbur A. Lam, MD, PhD is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Pediatrics at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University and has a unique background as a physician-scientist-engineer trained in pediatric hematology/oncology and bioengineering. Dr. Lam’s interdisciplinary laboratory, located at both Emory and Georgia Tech, includes engineers, biologists, biophysicists, chemists and physicians. Our laboratory serves as a unique “one-stop shop” in which we develop in vitro microsystems to study hematologic processes in both health and disease and then immediately bring those technologies to the patient bedside. More specifically, the Lam laboratory’s research interests involve the development and application of microsystems to enable research in pathologic biophysical blood cell interactions that occur in diseases such as sickle cell disease and thrombosis, as well as further translating those systems into novel therapeutics and diagnostic devices.

Read Wilbur’s Emerging Investigator series paper “Probing blood cell mechanics of hematologic processes at the single micron level” and find out more about him in the interview below:

 

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on probing blood cell mechanics of hematologic processes. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

As a bioengineer and a physician specializing in paediatric haematology, my initial goals for our lab were really twofold: 1) to leverage microscale technologies to apply cell mechanics principles towards investigating clinically relevant biologic processes and 2) to convince the medical and clinical haematology fields that physical phenomena such as shear stress and the mechanical properties of the microenvironment can directly mediate the biologic processes of blood cells and pathophysiology of blood diseases such as sickle cell disease and thrombosis. Over the last few years, I think our lab and other groups have accomplished that and we’re now concentrating on not only the basic science questions of blood cell mechanics but how to apply the microtechnologies we develop as potential diagnostics and even therapeutic systems for patients with blood diseases.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

Along those same lines, we’ve been at this game long enough to see some of our microtechnologies translate to my patients with blood diseases, which we find pretty exciting. For example, we just received FDA clearance for a point-of-care anaemia diagnostic our lab developed. We also have several other blood cell mechanics-based microtechnologies that are in our lab’s translational pipeline we’re pretty excited about. For instance, we’ve developed a microfluidic system that can assess platelet contraction forces at the single cell level and we’re now trying to determine whether that system can be used to diagnose patients with bleeding disorders, a clinical interest of mine. At the same time, we’re also trying to leverage that mechanical phenomenon of platelet contraction as a “Trojan Horse” strategy of targeted drug delivery for haemophilia, which we find to be pretty sci-fi and exciting. Moreover, using fairly simple microfluidic devices, we determined that intravenous hydration, a standard first-line therapy for sickle cell disease, may have beneficial as well as deleterious effects on red cell mechanics, which could potentially alter how we treat this disease. We’ve also developed technologies that can enable the translation of other technologies including a microfluidic device that can improve the transduction efficiency of lentiviruses for gene therapy and CAR T-cell therapy, which are both making significant clinical impacts right now. That said, we still remain very interested in the basic science of blood cell mechanics, which is evidenced by this current paper of ours, and we have active projects including but not limited to investigating leukocyte mechanics and are developing new microfluidic strategies to study and model bleeding.

In your opinion, what is the biggest potential impact the results of this research will have on blood disorder diagnostics?

I think impact of our research regarding blood disorder diagnostics can be measured in several ways. First, we obviously want to positively affect and help as many patients and people as possible, which is why we’re clearly excited about the recent FDA 510K clearance of our point-of-care anaemia diagnostic. For that project, we’re currently planning our manufacturing and distribution strategy with different partners to commercialize and disseminate this technology in the US and abroad to impact as many people globally as we can. In addition, we can also measure impact on a more personal level. One of the reasons why our lab has been fortunate enough to be able to recruit the best graduate students and postdoctoral fellows is because of our unique setup in which our lab is located both on the engineering side at Georgia Tech as well as the clinical side at Emory University and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, where I am a practicing physician. I’ve truly been blessed to work with the best and most talented students and postdocs in the field of bioengineering and I think they enjoy the fact that they can design a device and literally see it be used on a real live patient within a relatively short time frame. This is great for my patients as well, who are able to witness firsthand how medical technology develops and the potential of how it can improve their own lives in the near future. So, in essence, our lab has developed a “basement-to-bench-to-bedside” approach in which we design and develop microtechnologies to not only study disease but also directly translate these to the patients I care for and even conduct clinical assessments and trials for those devices – all under one roof. By the way, if your readers can help me come up with a better word than “basement” while still maintaining the alliteration as well as the overall message of the phrase, my lab and I will be extremely grateful.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Like many other bioengineering laboratories among your readership, successful design and development of a novel micro/nanoscale technology is only half the battle. Then you have to do the actual experiment to demonstrate its utility and hope it delivers some type of value. This can be frustrating at times, as our projects can take twice as long as average, but the hope is that our impact will be doubled as well.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

I attend the annual American Society of Hematology and International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis meetings as I serve on the scientific committees for both of them. I also frequently attend the annual Biomedical Engineering Society and MicroTAS meetings as well.

How do you spend your spare time?

I answer interview questions for scientific blogs! Seriously, I’m a huge fan of pop culture and pop music. I even have a lifetime subscription to Rolling Stone, which I’ve been starting to regret in recent years as I’ve grown older as the covers of that magazine have progressively gotten more risqué (or maybe that’s just my perception as whatever semblance of hipness and coolness I ever had is exponentially decreasing with time). I also still pick up my guitar every now and then – especially when I’m procrastinating writing a grant or submitting grades.

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

I find that when most people are asked this question, they give an idealized answer, so I’ll do the same. I’d like to say that I’d be a successful songwriter/musician as I’ve played guitar in bands from my teenage years until my first faculty position (during my clinical training, I played in an all-paediatrician band named “Booster Shot”). However, to be frank, I really wasn’t that good and seriously doubt I could have made it as a professional musician. So, I think the realistic answer is that my most likely alternative profession would be that of a disgruntled sales associate at a Guitar Center somewhere or working as a roadie for artists a fraction of my age and whom I most likely would have despised. So, it’s good that this science and medicine thing worked out…

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Hone your writing skills, start early and keep practicing. I am constantly amazed at how much of my time is devoted to writing and how important that skill is to be a successful scientist. Whether it’s writing or editing papers, lectures, or grants, I find I actually spend most of my time writing. In retrospect, this makes sense as communication really is the currency of science, but there’s no way my younger self would believe me if I were to travel back in time to let him what was ahead of him. I’ve had many young people tell me they want to go into science specifically because they dislike writing, which is obviously a misperception I’m quick to point out. In fact, one joke (and not a very good one, admittedly) I often share with my students is that as a scientist, I actually write really bland non-fiction for a living and for a very small audience, and when I’m grantwriting, I’m only writing to an audience of three people.

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Lab on a Chip awards prestigious prizes at MicroTAS 2017

The µTAS 2017 Conference was held during 22 – 26th October in Savannah, Georgia, USA.  Maria Southall,  Deputy Editor of Lab on a Chip, attended this conference and announced the prestigious Lab on a Chip awards which include the Pioneers of Miniaturization Lectureship (in partnership with Dolomite Microfluidics), the Widmer Young Researcher Poster Prize, the Art in Science competition (in partnership with NIST) and the µTAS video competition (in partnership with Dolomite Microfluidics). The competition was tough, but we are pleased to announce this year’s Prize Winners below.

“Pioneers of Miniaturization” Lectureship

Professor Aaron Wheeler (University of Toronto) was announced as the winner of the 12th “Pioneers of Miniaturization” Lectureship, sponsored by Dolomite and Lab on a Chip. The “Pioneers of Miniaturization” Lectureship rewards early to mid-career scientists who have made extraordinary or outstanding contributions to the understanding or development of miniaturised systems. Professor Aaron Wheeler received a certificate and a monetary award, and delivered a short lecture titled “A Pioneer’s Trail: from Savannah to Toronto to Kakuma and Beyond” at the conference.

Left to Right – Aaron Wheeler (Winner), Maria Southall (Lab on a Chip), Mark Gilligan (Dolomite). Photo taken by Darius Rackus.

Art in Science Competition

Darwin Reyes from the National Institute of Standards Technology (NIST) and Lab on a Chip presented the Art in Science award to Maria Cristina Letizia (EPFL, Switzerland). The award aims to highlight the aesthetic value in scientific illustrations while still conveying scientific merit. Check our her winning photograph “Give Bubbles a Chance” below.

Left to right: Darwin Reyes (NIST), Maria Cristina Letizia (Winner), Maria Southall (Lab on a Chip), Winning photo “Give Bubbles a Chance”

µTAS Video Competition

Dolomite and Lab on a Chip announced Aniruddha Kaushik (Johns Hopkins University) as the winner of the 2017 µTAS video competition. µTAS participants were invited to submit short videos with a scientific or educational focus. The winning video “Droplet Microfluidics Rap” can be viewed on our YouTube channel, along with the runner up video “Bubbles in Complex Microgeometries at Large Capillary Numbers” by Martin Sauzade (Stony Brook University). Mark Gilligan of Dolomite presented the winner with a voucher for Dolomite equipment.

Left to right: Mark Gilligan (Dolomite), Aniruddha Kaushik (Winner), Maria Southall (Lab on a Chip)

Widmer Young Researcher Poster Prize

The Widmer Young Researcher Poster Prize was awarded to Jin Ko, PhD student at the University of Pennsylvania for their poster on the prognosis of traumatic brain injury using machine learning based miRNA signatures in nanomagnetically isolated brain-derived exosomes.

Left to right: Séverine Le Gac and Ashleigh Theberge (Poster Award Chairs), Maria Southall (Lab on a Chip), David Issadore (PhD supervisor of award winner)

Congratulations to all the winners at the conference! We look forward to seeing you at µTAS 2018 in Kaohsiung, Taiwan!

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Emerging Investigator series – Pouya Rezai

We are delighted to introduce our latest Lab on a Chip Emerging Investigator, Pouya Rezai!

Dr. Pouya Rezai is an emerging investigator in the fields of microfluidics and Lab-on-Chips (LoC). He received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering from McMaster University in 2012. Dr. Rezai was an NSERC Visiting Fellow at Public Health Agency of Canada before joining York University in July 2013 as an Assistant Professor. He is the Graduate Program Director of the Department of Mechanical Engineering at York University and the Editor of the Canadian Society for Mechanical Engineering (CSME) bulletin. The overarching goal of his research program is to expand fundamental understanding of the interactions between fluids and nano- to micro-scale biological substances in their micro-environments and to employ this knowledge to devise efficient microsystems for facilitating research and development in human health-related applications

Read Pouya’s Emerging Investigator series paper “A microfluidic device for partial immobilization, chemical exposure and behavioural screening of zebrafish larvae” and find out more about him in the interview below:

 

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on a microfluidic device to partially immobilise Zebrafish Larvae for behavioural screening. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

I started my work on organisms-on-a-chip with the C. elegans worm model. Our work was initially focused on C. elegans response to electric field in microchannels, a phenomenon called electrotaxis. We then became interested in using electrotaxis as a tool to screen movement of worms under exposure to chemicals. Recently, we have become interested in not only electrotaxis, but also chemotaxis of C. elegans and other model organisms such as Drosophila melanogaster and Danio rerio in lab-on-chips. We have developed multiple microfluidic devices for neurobehavioral screening of these organisms. Our goal is to continue working on the same models at the behavioural level but also focus on their cellular responses to stimuli. Our long term objective is to use our organism-on-a-chip devices for drug screening and toxicology studies in collaboration with academia and industry.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

Two major aspects of my work as a professor excites me the most. First and foremost is being able to teach and train young students in the fields of Mechanical and Biomedical Engineering that I am passionate about; and second is having the opportunity to apply my knowledge as an engineer directly to human health related issues. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of our research, I find the collaborative aspects of our work very rewarding for me and my trainees.

In your opinion, what is the biggest benefit of immobilising Zebrafish Larvae for analysis over the conventional droplet-based technique?

The most significant benefit is achieving higher sensitivity in quantifying subtle movement behavioural phenotypes of zebrafish in an easier and faster way. In droplets, you either need an expert to monitor movement manually or complex setups for tracking larvae’s movement in the droplet. With our technique, minimally trained personnel can quickly gain the ability to assay zebrafish movement under exposure to various chemicals.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

We develop devices for live organisms with the capability of making voluntary decisions while in the chip. One does not encounter this challenge with cultured cells or molecules. Decision-making generates opportunities to study sensory-motor responses at the whole-organism level, but also produces a wide variety of challenges in designing microfluidic devices and quantification of the desired biological processes. Another challenge is the general trend in the field to move towards biological models that better mimic human diseases and disorders. This has generated significant momentum towards the use of human-derived cells in biomimetic microfluidic devices. However, I still think there are many unanswered questions that can be addressed by small scale organisms.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

The International Conference on Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences (MicroTAS) is my favorite conference to go to every year. Some other events that we attend are the MEMS and Transducers conferences.

How do you spend your spare time?

Time is the most precious thing in the world. The nature of an academic job requires a significant dedication of time to professional development, especially at the initial stages of your career. Is this a correct path that we have taken? Let’s not get there for now!
Like many of my colleagues who are my role models and mentors, I rarely have any spare time to be spent on my hobbies. But the most important activity that I enjoy doing, and I wish I could do much more, is to spend quality time with my lovely family. After this, I enjoy nature and listening to good music.

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

I would pursue the entrepreneurship path and start my own business to help resolve a pressing health related issue.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

One of the most influential factors during my professional career has been the opportunity to have excellent mentors and role models who have guided me throughout my postgraduate studies and academic career. The leaders in the field and their path to success have been very inspiring to me in the recent past. I recommend early career scientists to reach out to their communities and seek professional advise on their research and teaching activities.

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Emerging Investigators series – Milad Abolhasani

We are delighted to introduce our latest Lab on a Chip Emerging Investigator – Milad Abolhasani!

Milad Abolhasani is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University. He received his B.Sc. (2008) and M.A.Sc. (2010) degrees in Mechanical Engineering from Sharif University of Technology and the University of British Columbia, respectively. He then obtained his Ph.D. degree (2014) from the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering in collaboration with the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering at the University of Toronto. Prior to joining NC State University, he was a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT (Jensen group, 2014-2016), where he developed a modular flow chemistry strategy for in-situ mass transfer and kinetic studies of single/multi-phase chemical processes including bi-phasic cross-coupling reactions and colloidal synthesis and ligand exchange of semiconductor nanocrystals. Dr. Abolhasani‘s research interests include the development of microfluidic technologies tailored for solution-phase processing of energy harvesting nanomaterials and for fundamental studies of transport mechanisms involved in CO2 capture, recovery, and utilization in green chemistry (enabled by switchable solvents). Over the course of his doctoral and postdoctoral research, Dr. Abolhasani received numerous fellowships and awards including NSERC Postdoctoral Fellowship, CSME 2014 Best Graduate Student Paper Award, Bert Wasmund Graduate Fellowship in Sustainable Energy Research, and Russell A. Reynolds Graduate Fellowship in Thermodynamics.

Read his Emerging Investigators paper “Automated microfluidic platform for systematic studies of colloidal perovskite nanocrystals: towards continuous nano-manufacturing” and find out more about his research in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on studying colloidal perovskite nanocrystals. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

Well, my first research article as a graduate student (published in Lab on a Chip) was focused on the development of an inexpensive approach for rapid determination of thermodynamic characteristics of gas-liquid reactions using an image processing technique. Since then, I’ve expanded my expertise in multi-phase microfluidic systems with a focus on integrated systems with in-situ spectroscopy and/or in-line analytical characterization capabilities for material- and time-efficient studies of various physical/chemical processes. Few examples of such processes include homogenous catalytic reactions, partition coefficient of pharmaceutical compounds, colloidal synthesis of semiconductor nanocrystals, and hydrophilicity switching of switchable solvents. Despite different applications, the common theme among all multi-phase microfluidic technologies that I’ve developed so far has been the focus on realizing the early promise of microfluidics on minimizing the reagents volume used for each experimental condition while maximizing the amount of data obtained. My latest article builds on my experience in integrated microfluidic systems and in-situ spectroscopy techniques to study the effect of early stage mixing times on the optical properties of in-flow synthesized colloidal perovskite nanocrystals.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

Development of microfluidic technologies to contribute towards the next generation of energy-efficient and solution phase-processed photovoltaics.

In your opinion, what is the biggest advantage to using colloidal organic/inorganic metal-halide perovskite nanocrystals for photovoltaics over the current materials?

From materials perspective, hybrid organic/inorganic perovskite nanocrystals are inexpensive and can be manufactured using solution-phase processing techniques. In addition, these shiny nanocrystals possess high surface defect tolerance, high and broad absorption coefficient, high quantum-yield, and long charge carrier lifetime and diffusion length. Combining the superior physicochemical properties of colloidal perovskite nanocrystals with precise band-gap engineering and unparalleled experimental parameter control offered by multi-phase microfluidic platforms make them a promising candidate for the next generation photovoltaics and LED displays.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Learning about details of different steps involved in manufacturing thin-film solar cells. It is challenging but fascinating to learn.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

I am currently conducting this interview from MicroTAS 2017 conference in Savannah, GA. I will be attending the Annual AIChE meeting in Minneapolis, MN, between Oct 29 – Nov 3.

How do you spend your spare time?

Catching up with our favorite TV shows (TWD and GOT) with my wife

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

I would most probably choose to become an architect. I was (and am) always fascinated by “futuristic looking buildings” around the world such as Galaxy Soho in Beijing and Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp. The level of attention to details and precision in engineering are just mind-blowing.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

In my opinion, focusing on one long-term visionary project that fits your research interests and expertise should be the main goal of a junior faculty. There are so many interesting problems around you, but there is probably only ONE big-impact problem that would truly fit your background which you (hopefully) can solve within your precious pre-tenure adventures.

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Early Career Researcher workshop on Diagnostics for Antimicrobial Resistance

Early Career Researcher workshop on Diagnostics for Antimicrobial Resistance

20 November 2017, London, UK           

Join a diverse delegate list of early career researchers and invited experts to discuss the barriers and opportunities facing the development of rapid diagnostics for infectious disease.

Our speakers include:

  • Jim Huggett LGC & University of Surrey, United Kingdom
  • David H Persing Executive VP, Chief Medical & Technology Officer, Cepheid, United States
  • Bhargavi Rao Médecins Sans Frontières, Switzerland
  • Tim Rawson Imperial College London, United Kingdom
  • Annegret Schneider University College London, United Kingdom
  • Chris Walton Cranfield University, United Kingdom

The main themes identified at this workshop will be shared with various research funders and stakeholders. Don’t miss this chance to discuss some of the exciting developments in diagnostics for AMR and to share your thoughts about how to support early career researchers working in this field.

Register by 6th November to attend!

To find out more and register, please visit: http://rsc.li/diagnostics4AMR

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Emerging Investigators series – Ian Wong

We are delighted to introduce our latest Lab on a Chip Emerging Investigator – Ian Wong!

Ian Y. Wong is currently an Assistant Professor of Engineering and of Medical Science at Brown University. He completed an A.B. in Applied Mathematics from Harvard University in 2003, Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering with Nick Melosh at Stanford University in 2010, and postdoctoral training at Massachusetts General Hospital with Mehmet Toner and Daniel Irimia in 2013. He has been recognized with an NSF Graduate Research Fellowship, a Damon Runyon Cancer Research Fellowship, the Brown University Pierrepont Prize for Outstanding Advising, as well as a Biomaterials Science Emerging Investigator. His research interests include the development of miniaturized technologies to investigate cancer cell invasion, phenotypic plasticity and drug resistance. Moreover, his group engineers unconventional fabrication techniques for printing and patterning nano/bio materials.

Read his Emerging Investigators paper “Stereolithographic printing of ionically-crosslinked alginate hydrogels for degradable biomaterials and microfluidics“, watch the associated video and find out more about his research in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on stereolithographic printing of ionically-crosslinked alginate hydrogels. How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

I give complete credit to my graduate student, Tom Valentin, who came up with this approach to light-based 3D printing via ionic crosslinking – and then actually got it to work. In retrospect, my Ph.D. thesis focused on biomolecular self-assembly based on ionic interactions, so it’s serendipitous that my current research has circled back to some of these concepts.

 What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

My lab integrates biomaterials, microfluidics, and computer vision to investigate cancer cell migration and drug resistance. Our first few papers set down the foundations for these different technologies, but now we’re starting to put these pieces together to gain some fascinating insights into cancer biology.

 In your opinion, what is the biggest advantage of stereolithographic printing of hydrogels over other printing techniques?

 Conventional light-based 3D printing of soft materials is based on covalent crosslinking, which results in strong but irreversible bonds. Our demonstration of light-based patterning using reversible ionic crosslinks should enable smart and “biomimetic” properties such as self-healing and stimuli-responsiveness. These properties have been previously demonstrated in bulk hydrogels, but remain relatively nascent for 3D printed structures.

What do you find most challenging about your research?

I work at the interface of engineering and cancer biology, and I find that it takes a lot of effort to bridge between these two communities and become fluent in both disciplines. Moreover, there are twice as many things that can go wrong with the experiments! Nevertheless, it has been extremely worthwhile to see how our technologies could potentially make an immediate and highly meaningful impact.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

I will be attending BMES this October in Phoenix, AZ.

How do you spend your spare time?

Whenever possible, I enjoy dining out with my wife. I also enjoy cycling, which helps to burn off all those calories

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

I’ve always been interested in entrepreneurship, and this is something I will likely revisit once my lab and technologies become more established.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Early career scientists are constantly pulled in many directions and have limited time to commit to anything. Nevertheless, I try my best to spend a lot of time with my students and postdocs early on. Such mentoring helps trainees transition towards independence and can also catch problems before they become serious, so it is incredibly worthwhile in the long run.

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Emerging Investigators series – Steve Shih

We are delighted to introduce our latest Lab on a Chip Emerging Investigator – Steve Shih!

Steve Shih completed his BASc in Electrical Engineering from Toronto and then went to University of Ottawa to complete his Master’s degree in Chemistry. He then returned to Toronto to complete his Ph.D in Biomedical Engineering in Aaron Wheeler’s laboratory.  He then spent two years at UC Berkeley and at the Joint BioEnergy Institute (JBEI) as a postdoctoral researcher and worked closely with collaborators Jay Keasling and Nathan Hillson.  He learned pathway engineering of microbes for biofuel production using synthetic biology tools and published four papers related to this research.  As of January 2016, he became an Assistant Professor at Concordia University in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering with appointments in the Department of Biology and the Center for Applied Synthetic Biology.  His current research entails combining new microfluidic platforms with synthetic biological tools to solve challenges in the health, energy, and medical fields.

Read his Emerging Investigators paper “Image-based Feedback and Analysis System for Digital Microfluidics” and find out more about his research in the interview below:

Your recent Emerging Investigator Series paper focuses on an image-based feedback system for digital microfluidics How has your research evolved from your first article to this most recent article?

Wow it has evolved immensely! I started off as a naïve graduate student dabbling in the field of NMR and using that technique to determine structures of membrane proteins. My first paper described how we used computational and experimental techniques to optimize the determination of membrane protein structures. I learned so much in the field of chemistry and molecular biology, especially coming from an engineering background.

Now my research is in microfluidics and I am using this technique to solve some challenging biological problems.  Although the topics are completely different – the techniques that I learned previously has helped to find interesting solutions to engineering problems.  I am always excited to dabble in new and exciting fields and integrating traditional fields with the new.

What aspect of your work are you most excited about at the moment?

I just recently started my lab and there are so many exciting new projects. My lab is currently working on integrating microfluidics and automating processes related to synthetic biology. Synthetic biology has evolved towards engineering new organisms to produce vast quantities of valuable products, such as biorenewable fuels. This promise (and among many others) has been inspired by biologists that believe genetic engineering of biological cells can be more like the engineering of any hardware. However, challenges loom at multiple steps in the process and our lab is using microfluidics that will overcome these (or least some) challenges.

In your opinion, what is the biggest advantage of this technology and how will this impact digital microfluidics?

I am very excited about this paper because it is the first time that imaging techniques for feedback has been applied to digital microfluidics. One of the biggest challenges with digital microfluidics is the reliability of droplet movement – i.e. an application of a potential does not always equate to a droplet movement. This problem is exacerbated when we are multiplexing droplet movement – more droplets will fail during operation. We have developed a method in which we can individually detect all the droplets on the device using image-based techniques. This is a huge advantage since we only require applying a feedback mechanism to only those droplets that failed in movement while it does not delay the movement of other droplets that translated successfully on the device. This optimizes the time a droplet rests on an electrode and can minimize other effects that prevent droplet movement (e.g., biofouling).

What do you find most challenging about your research?

Everything, but this is why I love my inter-disciplinary research field since it involves so many different aspects. Some examples are trying to understand the underlying mechanisms of breast cancer to resolving issues of integrating synthetic biology techniques at the microscale.

In which upcoming conferences or events may our readers meet you?

I will be attending MicroTAS this year in Savannah and two of my students will be presenting posters. I will also be attending the 4BIO gene editing and synthetic biology conference at London, UK in December, where I will be giving a talk to describe some our microfluidic work with synthetic biology.

How do you spend your spare time?

Spare time is so rare among new professors. But I spend most of my time chasing my kids and trying to excite them for what is to come…

Which profession would you choose if you were not a scientist?

This is a tough question. I really love my job as an educator and everything else that comes with it. But if I had to choose something else, I think I would be a sports broadcaster on ESPN. I love sports and I am an avid fan of tennis and basketball. It would be my dream to commentate a Roger Federer game or to call a Toronto Raptors game.

Can you share one piece of career-related advice or wisdom with other early career scientists?

Failure is inevitable. I failed so many times during my career and it is all part of the learning process. Young scientists should embrace failure and learn as much as they can from it – don’t be afraid of it! They do not realize that failure is where new innovation and ideas come from. I definitely would not be where I am today if it was not for failure.

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Personalised Medicine: Liquid Biopsy

We are delighted to announce our latest Thematic Collection in Lab on a Chip – Personalised Medicine: Liquid Biopsy!

This collection is being lead by Thought Leaders Stefanie Jeffrey and Mehmet Toner.

Stefanie Jeffrey, MD, is the John and Marva Warnock Professor and Chief of Surgical Oncology Research in the Department of Surgery at Stanford University School of Medicine. Her lab focuses on technology development and applications related to liquid biopsy (CTCs, ctDNA, extracellular vesicles), droplet-based microfluidic platforms, and preclinical models for testing new cancer therapies.

Mehmet Toner, PhD, is a member of the faculty at the Center for Engineering in Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Dr. Toner is motivated by multi-disciplinary problems at the interface of engineering and life sciences. In the fields of microfluidics/micro-engineering/cancer he is working on microfluidics in biology and medicine including microfluidic blood processing, developing a microchip to help sort rare cells and integration of living cells and micro-engineered tissue units into micro-devices.

Liquid Biopsy, coined by Pantel and Alix-Panabières in 2010, originally referred to real-time analyses of CTCs in cancer. However, that term has since expanded to encompass the analyses of many other disease-related substances found in blood and other body fluids. Our goal is to highlight the new advances in this growing field with an emphasis on the interface between the technological advancements and high impact applications of liquid biopsy technologies. These would include manuscripts related to components that can be captured or characterized from blood such as circulating tumour cells, circulating nucleic acids and circulating extracellular vesicles.

Interested in submitting to the collection?

If you are interested in submitting to the personalised medicine: liquid biopsy collection, please contact the Lab on a Chip Editorial Office at loc-rsc@rsc.org  and provide a title and abstract of your proposed submission.

Articles will be published as they are accepted and collated into an online Thematic Collection, which will receive extensive promotion. Read the collection so far – http://rsc.li/liquid-biopsy 

Submissions for this collection are open from 1st September 2017 to 30th June 2018

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