Biomedical microdevices, which include miniaturized assay systems and microphysiological systems, have undergone rapid advances in recent decades. This innovation is driven by a range of needs including automated, high-though put assay of ultra-small-sized samples and recapitulation of cellular or organ physiology within a precisely controlled microenvironment. A critical aspect in microdevice development is not only the engineering specifications and principles that guide construction but also the need to ensure that the devices are scalable, manufacturable, reproducible, and accurate. Simple yet elegant designs create platforms that are readily adopted by non-engineering experts facilitating widespread usage and ultimately commercialization. Three novel miniaturized devices that embody this “simple yet elegant” design strategy will provide examples: a micro-separation platform for assay of single-cell contents, microraft arrays for tracking and sorting cells and organoids, and an intestine-on-chip accurately mimicking in vivo architecture and physiology. These and other advances in biomedical microdevices are paving the way for rapid discoveries in basic and pharmaceutical sciences, as well as personalized medicine.
Nancy L. Allbritton is the Frank & Julie Jungers Dean of Engineering and Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington in Seattle (2019- current). From 2009-2019, she was the Kenan Professor of Chemistry and Biomedical Engineering and Chair of the Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and North Carolina State University (NC State). Her research focuses on the development of novel technologies for applications in single-cell analysis, micro-arrays and fluidics, and organ-on-chip and has resulted in >180 full-length journal publications and patents and led to 15 commercial products. Her research program has been well funded by the National Institutes of Health with >$65 million in grant funding since 2000. Four companies have been formed based on her research discoveries: Protein Simple (acquired by Bio-Techne in 2014), Intellego, Cell Microsystems (www.cellmicrosystems.com), and Altis Biosystems (www.altisbiosystems.com). Dr. Allbritton is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Institute for Medical & Biological Engineering, and the National Academy of Inventors. She obtained her B.S. in physics from Louisiana State University, M.D. from Johns Hopkins University, and Ph.D. in Medical Physics/Medical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with a postdoctoral fellowship at Stanford University.