Jeff Jensen is no newcomer to the microfluidics arena, so it says something that he was lured to startup Fluxion Biosciences because its technology solved a problem that Jensen says plagues most other microfluidics platforms.
The major problem with microfluidics, he says, has long been one of compatibility: sample prep largely occurs in well-plate format, while fluidics are usually handled on a chip. That tension between sample prep and actual experiment has kept microfluidics from really taking off, says Jensen, who is now CEO of the company. Part of the beauty of Fluxion’s technology, as he sees it, is that it’s “really elegant in its simplicity,” he says. “It’s microfluidics in a well-plate format.”
Simplicity was one of the driving goals for technology developer Cristian Ionescu-Zanetti, Fluxion’s chief technology officer. He designed the platform while a researcher in the bioengineering department at the University of California, Berkeley, looking into the “precise positioning of cells and interrogation of cells in an arrayable format.” The original goal was to use the tool to study ion channels, which make up 15 to 20 percent of known drug targets, Ionescu-Zanetti says.
The tool traps cells “in close proximity to one another,” he adds, and then allows for optical imaging, use as a cell-based assay, and more. “We’re aiming this instrument at the individual researcher, both within pharma and within academia,” Ionescu-Zanetti says.
Fluxion, founded in 2005, aims to take the technology to those users. First up: a focus on using the tool as a cell-based assay, specifically for looking at biofilms and cellular adhesion. Biofilms represent “an emerging area within the drug resistance of bacteria,” Ionescu-Zanetti says. “A lot of those phenomena have been linked to the bacteria actually banding together and forming these films, [which] renders them immune to antibiotics.” Ionescu-Zanetti says his technology can be used as a synthetic microenvironment where such biofilm structures can be formed and studied by researchers hoping to tackle drug resistance. The technology currently allows users to multiplex experiments — up to 16 at a time, which Ionescu-Zanetti says the company hopes to ramp up. The next application on the horizon is studying ion channels.
Jensen says the company also plans to grow its staff, which is currently at six employees. That could double by the end of this year, he says. Fluxion already has systems and a nascent customer base, some of whom work in collaboration with the company and others who have ordered the platform and use it in-house.