Research

MICROFABRICATION AND CHIP DESIGN

To create biomicrofluidic systems and organ-on-a-chip (OOC) devices that are functional, manufacturable, and accessible for biologists and other researchers, it is necessary to develop novel fabrication methods that can accelerate research and development in the lab, and facilitate translation to the end-user and to industry. Our group is developing novel practical techniques and technical knowhow to advance thermoplastic microfabrication in the lab setting and toward industry-scale manufacturing. We have focused on methods that involve micromilling, liquid-phase solvent bonding for plastics, medium volume production of thermoplastic devices, and a novel concept involving the use of recycled plastics to fabricate devices for basic lab experiments. 

THEORETICAL AND NUMERICAL MODELLING

To assist the design and development of biomicrofluidic systems, and to determine optimal device operating conditions for different systems, our group is developing theoretical and computational models of biotransport and cellular processes to complement experimental approaches and offer additional insights on biomicrofluidic system operation and functionality. We have studied biomolecular diffusion patterns in devices by computational modelling and correlated these diffusion patterns with functional cell responses obtained by experimental approaches that involved single cell analyses that accounted for the location of each cell. Recently, we have developed a combined mathematical and computational approach for studying cell migration and angiogenesis in microfluidic devices.

BIOMICROFLUIDICS AND OOCs FOR LUNG RESEARCH

Our group has developed several biomicrofluidic systems for cancer research, including MicroC3, a device used for testing drug sensitivity and resistance on multiple myeloma tumour cells in co-culture with neighbouring bone marrow stromal cells from the same patient.  We are currently working on several research projects that involve development of microfluidic systems for studying solid tumours such as breast and lung cancer in a more physiologically relevant context. More specifically, these projects involve studying the angiogenesis process and complex epithelial-endothelial interactions that are involved in tumour development. We are also developing a 3D biomimetic model of the mammary gland to study breast cancer.  This mammary gland model is being applied to investigate cancer cell migration and endothelial-epithelial crosstalk, enabling new insights on cellular interactions that may potentially drive angiogenesis and cell invasion processes.

BIOMICROFLUIDICS AND OOCs FOR CANCER RESEARCH

Our group is developing lung airway-on-chips, enabled by our in-house micromilling and solvent bonding techniques. Our system enables long-term (> 4 weeks) co-culture of airway epithelial and smooth muscle cells on a suspended hydrogel layer, and exhibits expected cell surface markers and functional properties that support its use as an appropriate lung airway tissue model. Our lab is now actively developing methods to deliver air pollutants into the airway-chip to simulate inhalation of pollutants, and to monitor the effects of pollutants on the living cells in the model by live-cell microscopy and molecular biology techniques.

BIOMICROFLUIDICS AND OOCs FOR HEART RESEARCH

In collaboration with Dr. Sara Nunes de Vasconcelos, we recently developed an organ-on-a-chip (OOC) device for studying cardiac fibrosis, and the response of engineered fibrotic tissues to different drugs. We designed and fabricated an arrayable and user-friendly system that enables co-culture of human cardiac fibroblasts together with induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes, and allows the dynamic measurement of tissue contractile force by detecting the deformation of polymeric rods that support the cultured fibrotic (or normal) tissues. The system is able to reproduce the classic hallmarks of cardiac fibrosis, including expected high collagen deposition, increased tissue stiffness, and decreased contractive forces.