The battle being waged against a growing number of deadly diseases is getting a micro-sized boost that contains a powerful punch.
CMC, a collaboration between government, industry and university to deliver advanced tools and technologies to Canadian universities, and Edmonton’s Micralyne are partnering to launch an initiative in microfluidic research.
The goal is to drive the next revolution in disease diagnosis and drug discovery, and it comes at a time when SARS, the West Nile Virus and mad cow disease dominate the headlines.
“Our partnership with Micralyne means that for the first time, university faculty and post-graduate students across Canada will be able to access the same level of excellence in research capabilities as private industry in the emerging field of microfluidics,” said CMC president and CEO Brian Barge.
|Photo courtesy Canadian Microelectronics Corporation|
|Alberta Minister of Economic Development Mark Norris, left, dispenses liquids into a microfluidic chip at Micralyne Inc.|
“Enhancing these capabilities will strengthen Canada’s research capacity and give our industries a competitive edge in the development of future biomedical applications, specifically in medical instrumentation and in the detection, analysis and treatment of diseases like cancer.”
For Micralyne, the deal is a good one, said president and CEO Chris Lumb. “It essentially means that we’re able to promote the more rapid dissemination of technologies like microfluidics, get them into universities, get them into industries and get the industrial applications out there that are going to be developed more quickly.”
Barge and Lumb point out that microfluidic chips are central to the emerging field of nano and micron-scale bioanalysis. However, their high cost has put them beyond the financial reach of many of Canada’s researchers. By leveraging CMC’s relationship with the university research community, Micralyne will be able to manufacture these customized glass chips for a fraction of the cost.
“The market potential for microfluidic technology is huge. It’s already a multimillion-dollar market and various studies estimate the growth of it to be up to anywhere between $4 billion and $7 billion five years from now,” said Lumb.
“The reason it is significant is because of what the technology does. It allows faster, cheaper and more accurate diagnosis of biochemicals. That can be used in drug discoveries, it can be used in diagnosis, and both of those are huge growth areas.”
Microfluidic microchips are similar to a lab-on-a-chip, allowing minute volumes of liquids or gases to be pumped along a channel for quick and easy testing. These miniature labs can perform tasks such as DNA analysis or the separation of human blood cells, leading to improved treatments and the faster development of disease-fighting drugs.
The first researchers to design and fabricate customized microfluidic chips to be manufactured through the partnership will be in chemical, mechanical/industrial and electrical/computer engineering at the universities of Alberta, Calgary, Toronto, Queen’s and Simon Fraser.
“We work closely with universities for a variety of reasons,” said Lumb. “One is that the technology they develop will more quickly become products if we bring enabling technology to them. The second is that we find what university researchers work on quite often turns into a product opportunity for us, or they have very well-qualified students that graduate from their labs and become employees of ours.”
Founded in 1998, Micralyne is a U of A spinoff company and is a leader in the field of microfluidics and a pioneer in micro-electro-mechanical systems.
CMC, meanwhile, is shifting part of its focus from microelectronics to emerging sectors such as microfluidics and nanotechnology, said Barge.
“What’s happening is there is an integration of these (and other) areas, and so new researchers, not just electrical engineers or people interested in telecommunications, are using these small devices. Now we’re finding cancer surgeons and other researchers are interested in the rapid analysis and detection of pathogens and bacteria, and the market is increasing in terms of the researchers who want this type of access,” said Barge.