3D Soft Lithography and Manufacturing of Microcirculation Phantoms

Microcirculation networks consist of vessels <100┬Ám in diameter; arterioles, capillaries (where oxygen exchange takes place) and venules. Angiogenesis is a common feature of almost all diseases involving the proliferation of new blood vessels at the level of microcirculation. There is considerable interest in understanding the role of microcirculation in terms of hemodynamics and in the development of techniques to measure perfusion. 'Phantoms' mimic the geometry and physical properties of the tissues, allowing comparison of properties measured using imaging with known properties in the phantom. We have developed a method for the manufacturing of a microcirculation phantom that may be used to investigate hemodynamics using optics based methods. We make an Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) negative mold, manufactured in a Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM) printer, embed it in Polydimethysilioxane (PDMS) and dissolve it from within using acetone. We have successfully made an enlarged three-dimensional (3D) network of microcirculation, and tested it using red blood cell (RBC) analogues. We're now exploring the use of this phantom for testing medical imaging technologies.
Click here to download this paper.

Droplet Microfluidics (DMF)

DMF is a technique that exploits the interaction of electrodynamic fields with polar liquids. Fluid droplets, moving on the planar surface of a microfluidic chip, can be transported, split, joined, and dispensed. In collaboration with his colleagues at the DTC in Cell and Proteomic Technologies, Dr Stokes developed manufacturable fabrication techniques for producing digital microfluidic chips. These chips are used for sample preparation of biological fluids prior to analysis by, for example, mass spectrometry. References to our group's papers can be found here.
The video below is from Prof. Richard Fair--the inventor of droplet microfluidics. Other pioneering work on DMF by Prof. Aaron Wheeler can be found here.

Microfluidics and New Tools for Synthetic Biology

Synthetic Biology

Dr Stokes is a Member and PI in SynthSys: a Centre for Synthetic and Systems Biology. It was originally established as a Centre for Integrative Systems Biology (CISB) funded by the BBSRC and the EPSRC in 2007. Our experimental and theoretical researchers are co-located in the new CH Waddington building situated on the Kings Buildings science campus. SynthSys represents an interdisciplinary research environment with members across many Research Institutes, Colleges and Schools, including The University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt University and BioSS. The Centre is currently expanding its membership and now includes additional researchers leading grants in related areas.

In addition to exploring avenues for research with SynthSys, Dr Stokes is actively involved in public outreach. Together with colleagues from SynthSys and the Edinburgh College of Art we recently put on a show in the Edinburgh International festival. Synthetic Biology; Where Organic Meets Digital was a two-hour performance where Alan Murray (designer and artist), Prof Alistair Elfick (Chair in Synthetic Biological Engineering at the University of Edinburgh) and Dr Adam Stokes (lecturer in Micro and Nano Systems at the University of Edinburgh) described what Synthetic Biology is and how we might meld the linear and highly granular process of scientific inquiry with the iterative and highly generative process of design and art.

The SBWOMD performance was developed through a week-long workshop (Organic Tinkering) that took place in April 2013 where Murray, Elfick and Stokes were joined by Prof Tait (Social Scientist at the University of Edinburgh), Prof Speed (Chair in Design Informatics) and Prof Rabinowicz (Associate Professor of Product Design at Parsons, New York). The workshop developed a hands-on and tactile approach to how different disciplines might start to develop effective collaborative research and artefacts.

Stokes (Engineer and inventor) explored how the "World of Hard Things" could be aligned with the "World of Soft Things" into new altered Biological Systems. Through examples of his own soft robots, Stokes suggested that processes in Synthetic Biology could develop future "Soft Systems". After describing the fundaments of Synthetic Biology, Elfick described his part in developing a "cheap arsenic bio-sensor" and the "Synthetic Aesthetics" project. Murray described how designers with little Science and Engineering background had been designing for an imagined Synthetic Biology and how his own work in "designing behaviours" looked to "domestication" and "living learning environments" as everyday objects become increasingly intelligent.

Additionally the SBWOMD performance asked the audience to participate in a "Dance of the central dogma of Biology" using a choreographer, dancers, sombreros and RFID equipped biological models to understand how Synthetic Biologists intervene in the two stages of amino-acid production.