Center for Microfluidics and Medical Diagnostics Teams with Industry Partners
Center for Microfluidics and Medical Diagnostics Teams with Industry Partners

In the September 2004 issue of Business 2.0, an article titled “Seven New Technologies That Change Everything” by G. Pascal Zachary identifies microfluidics as one of the hottest emerging technologies because it offers the potential of eliminating expensive laboratory tests and the lengthy wait for results. According to Zachary, sales of currently available microfluidic test kits are projected to reach $300 million by the end of the year. In fact, says Zachary, the U.S. Postal Service has already installed microfluidic detection systems at major processing centers in an effort to identify anthrax laced mail.

These actions are not surprising to Andrew Downard, product development manager for the Center for Microfluidics and Medical Diagnostics at Notre Dame. “Microfluidics research has been going on for quite awhile,” says Downard. “It’s just a matter of time before it makes the full-fledged jump from university laboratories to commercial applications, where small, cost-effective test kits could be sold over-the-counter. Bacteria, viral infections, and diseases such as tuberculosis or SARS ... could be identified quickly and more cost-effectively.”

One of the goals of the center, which was established in 2003, is to facilitate the type of technology transfer Downard describes. In fact, the center is working with Scientific Methods., Inc., of Granger, Ind., on the development of a portable beach-monitoring sensor that can detect dangerous E. Coli in a matter of minutes. Currently, the decision to close public beaches is driven by laboratory tests, which take up to two days to process. Researchers are incorporating a bacteria trap into the hand-held sensor. The trap uses A/C electro-osmotic flow to force bacteria into highly concentrated lines, giving municipal officials real-time information about the water quality to better safeguard public health.

“We’ve been working with Scientific Methods since April 2004,” says Downard, “and it’s been a good match. We have the expertise in fluid mechanics, and they have the expertise in microbiology and business applications.”

According to Downard, the company has also been instrumental in helping the center with research and development space for Microfluidic Applications (MFA), a separate company founded by faculty within the center. The company serves as an incubator for research projects that offer the best possibilities for commercialization. Personnel in the company are working with researchers to develop viable products. They are also applying for Small Business Innovative Research grants and seeking private-equity investments to fund these efforts.

One of the devices MFA is developing is a Zetafilter, which will be used for the electrophoretic separation and concentration of bacteria, viruses, and proteins. Separation is based on the size and charge of the molecule, providing faster processing times and more selectivity than currently available products. Its principal applications will be for medical, proteomic, and environmental researchers. Downard recently completed a working prototype of the Zetafilter and is currently working to commercialize the technology.The center director is Hsueh-Chia Chang, the Bayer Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. David T. Leighton Jr., professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, is associate director.

For more information about the center, its faculty, and current projects, visit

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