UCLA researchers in the Department of Bioengineering have developed systems and methods to produce single particle, monodisperse droplets for use in digital assays, targeted drug delivery, and theranostics.
The ability to identify and detect ultra-low level biomarkers in patients could open up a range of new diagnostic opportunities in precision medicine. Current precision technologies such as digital assays, which isolate single entities, achieve are capable to of detecting biomolecules that are several orders of magnitude lower than traditional analytical assays but are expensive and require the use of highly specialized, bulky equipment. In order to be more accessible, digital assays (that use nanoparticle emulsions) need to develop a method to synthesize uniform particles that have consistent, identical properties to accurately measure pharmacokinetic effects and efficacy.
UCLA researchers have developed systems and methods to create single particle, uniform volumes associated with solid-phase particles (e.g. dropicles) suspended in an immiscible phase. Microparticles that contain a void region connected to the particle surface can act as particle templates to generate a uniform distribution of droplets while containing an open space to perform reactions or encapsulate cells/beads. These cavity-containing particles also enhance the ability to encapsulate larger volumes of an aqueous fluid sample (per droplet and for a plurality of particles), which is important for cell culture, cell secretion analysis, and diagnostic analysis of large volumes of sample. The dropicles can be easily functionalized with targeting ligands and can be conjugated to solubilizing agents, fluorophores or nucleid acids through functional handles on their surface. This technology allows the formation of uniform droplets in large batches within minutes instead of hours or days required by typical flow approaches. This technology provides a cost and time effective method to produce dropicles that can be used in biological settings for a large range of applications.
The UCLA researchers have utilized this method to produce various types of emulsions for digital immunoassays (PCR, ELISA) and targeted drug delivery in vitro. Various types of dropicles have been developed containing a variety of surfactants, targeting ligands and nucleic acid barcodes as well as hollow nanoparticles for single cell encapsulation.
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