Engineering Better Health
When Henry Ford’s Model T started rolling off the assembly line in 1908, it represented more than a new type of car. Ford’s great leap forward revolutionized manufacturing itself through automation and innovative designs.
Dr. Yu Sun, Canada Research Chair in Micro- and Nano-Engineering Systems, is poised at a similar juncture in medical research as he engineers systems with the potential to affect areas from cancer screening to tissue engineering. But instead of cars, he’s looking at changing the way we handle cells.
Much biological research requires physical manipulation and characterization of cells. Today, this is done manually and can be a slow process, prone to human error. It also means results are hard to reproduce, which is critical for scientific advancements to be validated.
Sun is engineering high-speed, automated ways to process cells. For example, it’s been known for years that cancer cells and normal cells are mechanically different. To detect cancer in this way, biologists manually characterize cells—a process that covers 10 cells per minute at best. With Sun’s technologies, 2,000 cells could be dealt with every 20 minutes or less.
Cancer screening is but one of several applications that Sun’s team is investigating. They are also collaborating on assisted reproduction, genetics, stem cell creation and molecule screening. Regardless of application, the principle remains the same: find ways to automate and speed-up cell manipulation and characterization via technologies and micro, nano-robotics.
Breaking down the barriers presented by manual cell manipulation and characterization means that major discoveries can be turned into clinical and practical applications. Sun has already developed prototype technologies and expects to have them up and running within five years.