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Start-Up Commercializing Genetic Microfluidic Chip

Domino microfluidics chip (University of Alberta)

Domino microfluidics chip (University of Alberta)

Aquila Diagnostic Systems in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada is taking to market a technology that collects small blood samples on a microfluidic chip for multiple genetic tests. The technology, now in prototype, was developed at University of Alberta, also in Edmonton, and licensed to Aquila for commercialization when the company was formed in 2009.

The chip resembles a small domino tile and is thus named the Domino (pictured right). The chip — about the size of two postage stamps — is part of a system that uses polymerase chain reaction technology to amplify and detect targeted sequences of DNA. The Domino contains 20 gel posts, each the size of a pinhead, that can identify genetic sequences of DNA from a single drop of blood.

The Domino with the blood sample is then inserted into an analyzer unit about the size of a toaster that performs the DNA sequencing. The analyzer unit has a heating device, laser, a charge-coupled device (CCD)-based image detector, and on-board control systems.

The device can perform multiple tests simultaneously to detect the presence of a pathogen, such as a virus, in the blood sample, or detect genetic characteristics of the blood donor for indications of potential drug resistance. The system can be used for tests on animals as well as humans, and the company’s first target market is the livestock industry.

The unit’s small size makes it a potential testing device for point-of-care or field diagnostics. Tests take about an hour. The system is expected to cost about $5,000, with each disposable chip costing a few dollars each.

“We’re basically replacing millions of dollars of equipment that would be in a conventional, consolidated lab,” says Jason Acker, Aquila’s chief technologist, “with something that costs pennies to produce and is field portable so you can take it where needed.” Acker is also associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology at University of Alberta.

The Domino system was first developed at University of Alberta by a team led by Linda Pilarski, an oncologist and researcher in biomedical nanotechnology. Pilarski’s team received a $5 million grant from an Alberta medical innovation fund to develop the device for the marketplace.

The Domino is a finalist for the $175,000 TEC NanoVenturePrize award. TEC Edmonton is a joint venture between the university and Edmonton Economic Development Corporation that aims to help start-ups in the early stages of operations. Aquila made use of TEC Edmonton’s services for patenting and licensing the technology.

The following animation illustrates how the Domino system will work.


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