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Advanced Liquid Logic Wins SBIR Grant to Develop Biobanking QC Product

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Advanced Liquid Logic has been awarded a $150,000 Phase I Small Business Innovation Research grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop a microfluidic PCR-based device for assuring DNA quality control in biobanks, according to recently published grant information.

Advanced Liquid Logic was founded in 2004 to commercialize digital microfluidics technology developed at Duke University. The company's core technology manipulates discrete droplets electrically without the use of pumps or valves.

The company has been attempting to commercialize this technology for use in immunoassays, PCR, clinical chemistry, and sample preparation, among other applications.

Now, using the recently awarded SBIR grant administered by the National Human Genome Research Institute, the company, led by principal investigator and R&D engineer Zhishan Hua, will attempt to combine several of the digital microfluidic technology's capabilities into a solution for DNA quality control in biobanking.

As the number of specialized biobanks has grown worldwide, so too has the challenge of ensuring consistent quality of the hundreds of thousands of nucleic acid samples contained within them. This is an especially vexing problem when considering the sometimes wildly disparate methods of collecting, transporting, and storing samples.

According to the grant's abstract, maintaining the quality of such large collections of genetic material requires a "significant expenditure of time and effort with currently available techniques."

With its SBIR grant, Advanced Liquid Logic proposes to develop an "automated and low-cost DNA quality control solution" that will combine droplet-based "digital microfluidic" sample handling and real-time PCR with gel electrophoresis in a "single, unified disposable cartridge," the grant's abstract states.

The device will perform quantitation and quality assessment by nucleic acid sizing; and will detect contamination, such as bacterial DNA, in the sample using real-time PCR, according to the grant.

In Phase I of its project, Advanced Liquid Logic plans to establish the feasibility of combining the aforementioned processes into a single device. If successful, the company's subsequent work under Phase II of the grant would focus on automating all aspects of the process in a full prototype device and scaling up the number of samples analyzed to allow "high throughput, multiplexed operation," the company said.

The Morrisville, NC-based firm in 2009 won a four-year, $5.2 million award from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to develop a rapid point-of-care HIV diagnostic device for low-resource settings using its digital microfluidic technology. According to the company's website, that platform, which uses an immunoassay approach, has been developed and is currently being evaluated by undisclosed partners.

Last March, Luminex said that it had inked an exclusive licensing agreement with Advanced Liquid Logic that would combined the company's digital microfluidic technology with Luminex's xMAP platform to create various systems for sample preparation and assay development.

Advanced Liquid Logic has also been securing key intellectual property. Last month, it received US Patent No. 7,998,436, entitled "Multiwell droplet actuator, system, and method;" and in December the company, along with Duke University, was assigned US Patent No. 7,851,184, "Droplet-based nucleic acid amplification method and apparatus."

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