What is microfluidics? It's a technology that will revolutionize biology as well as medical diagnostics. How through the manipulation of biological samples and miniaturized devices? The aim is that many operations currently performed in biological labs could be miniaturized and integrated into a single chip. This is what we call lab on a chip. With this new technology, a tiny drop of liquid can easily be divided into a thousand droplets. From there it's possible to perform various operations on each one of these droplets. Thanks to microfluidics, we can now maintain cell cultures at an unprecedented scale. For example, it's possible to conduct thousands of parallel cell cultures with these chips versus only a hundred and a conventional industrial laboratory.
The hydrodynamics laboratory at Ecole Polytechnique is currently developing a cell manipulation platform through which it will be possible to make quantitative measurements on tens or even hundreds of thousands of single cells. With this platform, researchers will be able to test responses to control stimuli, such as a certain drug and mechanical signal or other pathogenic cells like bacteria. For each cell culture, it will be possible to test one by one the stimuli at the very specific dose and one cell at a time. It will give scientists an unprecedented resolution for this type of testing. All these tests conducted in parallel will generate a very large volume of data what could be called cells big data. This allows for very precise statistics and for a vastly more detailed study of cellular behavior. It will be possible to detect small minority subpopulations and thus diagnose genetic diseases or cancer very early on for example.
ConclusionTo sum up researchers will be able to test the response of cells to control stimuli but with the resolution of a single cell and to use a robust statistical approach that can detect very small minority subpopulations. The platform developed at Ecole Polytechnique opens important perspectives for understanding biological processes. Therefore, in order to develop new drugs against cancer for example it will be possible to test the effect of molecules on cell cultures and thus detect potential side effects on some organs and therefore reduce the dependence on animal testing. Also but this is still science fiction at the moment it could lead to cell therapy applications by selecting the most interesting induced pluripotent stem cells which are cells that are reprogrammed in the lab from adult cells. This could become a technique to produce customized stem cells for regenerative medicine.