Epigem and the University of Leeds unveiled the first commercial chip-based microfluidic microbubble generating machine in the world.
The instrument generates microbubbles in two regimes, monodisperse bubbles with controlled size between 2 and 8 microns in diameter and a spray regime which produces large numbers of bubbles with a mean diameter less than 2 microns.
The microbubbles can be filled with a wide range of gases, but are typically fluorocarbons, and their surfaces comprise of a range of surfactant lipids which can also be modified with targeting agents or payloads for diagnostic or therapeutic delivery.
Whilst the Leeds group is primarily focussed on applications in detecting and treating colorectal cancers and liver metastases, the technology has wide spread potential for preclinical and clinical applications across a range of diseases including heart disease and diabetes to arthritis and oncology.
The Epigem-University of Leeds HORIZON allows experimental microbubbles to be made and tested on-demand in a reproducible manner making them suitable for researchers and ultimately clinicians working in a range of areas.
The on-chip microfluidics approach allows researchers to be prescriptive in the make-up of the microbubble and importantly allows on-chip assembly of therapeutic payloads or diagnostic molecules around the microbubble core.
Such engineered therapeutic microbubbles could deliver drugs directly and specifically to the site of any tumour. It is hoped that such an approach will significantly reduce the amounts of drugs needed for treatment, thus reducing unpleasant side effects and improving their effectiveness whilst reducing cost.
Although microbubbles are already used in the clinic as a diagnostic contrast agent with ultrasound, their use as theranostic agents (therapy combined with diagnostic capability) requires extensive further research and approval before they can be used in humans.
The first implementation of the new technology and instrument will therefore be in pre-clinical development and evaluation of therapeutic microbubbles, thus helping to improve and speed up this essential phase of research.
One of the recent breakthroughs in technology that is central to the success of the new instrument is the high rate of microbubble generation meaning that it would take only 5 minutes to prepare diagnostic or drug laden microbubbles.
Epigem and the University have agreed to commercialise the product and there are several patents around various aspects of the process as well as one pending on controlling microbubble lifetime in vivo. The next stage for the HORIZON is to hold a wider scientific trial of the instrument and it will be tested in several laboratories around Europe over the next year.
The vision for the HORIZON is to develop research applications and ultimately a clinical instrument for cancer diagnostics and treatments. This project is part of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council Health Care Challenge and is the culmination of three years’ work.
Sir Alex Markham, Professor of Medicine at the University of Leeds, said: “One of the problems with drug development is that sometimes the compounds we are working with are not very soluble in water. That limits the dose that you can give to the patient."
“Drugs that we have thought might be effective if they could be delivered in a targeted way have failed because of this. This technology opens the possibility of sending the drugs to a specific site where they are needed and ensuring a strong enough dose is delivered. It is an approach that may be applicable in many disease areas.”
Tim Ryan, director of Epigem, said: “We are delighted that finally the fruits of our research with Leeds University are being seen. Micro-fluidics is enabling this new technology to potentially create a whole new research field. This world-first shows that British science and engineering continues to blaze a trail and potentially benefit cancer sufferers throughout the world.”
Professor Steve Evans of the School of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Leeds, said: “Never before have scientists and clinicians been able to generate micro-bubbles as they want them – with different sizes, with consistency, with different surfaces and different product within the bubble. The opportunities for this technology are boundless, not just in healthcare though undoubtedly the potential for cancer diagnostics and ultimately treatment is huge.”