Genome Technology Center

Development of a Lab-on-a-Chip for the Characterization of Human Cells.

Peter Ertl, Ph.D.
Austrian Research Centers
Vienna, Austria


Over the past decade, the miniaturization of analytical techniques by means of MEMS technology has become a dominant trend in research. The creation of microanalytical systems, such as biochips have demonstrated the ability to provide quantitative data in real-time and with high sensitivity [1]. Microfluidic biochips or lab-on-a-chip systems are vital for biological analysis because they allow spatial and temporal control of growth conditions [2]. Monitoring cell behavior under varying conditions and understanding genotype-phenotype interactions in the context of a living cell is expected to have a considerable impact on medicine [3]. The principle behind cell analysis is that a cellular phenotype represents the expression of a genotype, thus revealing gene function and its interaction with the environment. However, to gain a deeper biological understanding of cells, it is necessary to first make progress in experimental devices, as well as computational and analytical methods.

The objective of the developed cell chip is to monitor real-time cellular phenotype dynamics under varying conditions. The cell chip is designed to continuously assess cell viability, reproduction and metabolic activity over long periods of time using different sensors on a common chip platform. The integrated fluidic and heating systems allow controlled manipulation of living cells adhered to modified/activated chip surfaces that are comparable to biological niches. Furthermore, the chip contains an integrated reference arm providing a low-noise detection environment by eliminating background signals and interferences.

The presented work addresses aspects of chip design, fluidic flow profiles, sensor characterization and on-chip cultivation of HeLa cell growth. Additionally, sensor performance will be shown using various microbial strains of known differences in cell morphologies. Furthermore, chemometric analysis from data obtained with cellular dielectric spectroscopy and pattern recognition results will be presented.

[1] Dittrich, P. S.; Tachikawa, K.; Manz, A. Anal. Chem., 2006, 78, 3887-3907

[2] Whitesides, G. M., Nature, 2006, 442, 368-373

[3] El-Ali, J.; Sorger, P.K.; Jensen, K.F. Nature, 2006, 442, 403-411


In Sept. 2005 Dr. Ertl joined the Department of Nano-System-Technologies at the Austrian Research Centers (ARC) as a senior scientist to lead the lab-on-a-chip research group. His research involves the application of bioanalytical systems, sensors and nanotechnology. His interests include developing bioassays and micro-total analysis systems (µTAS) capable of solving problems in health, food and environmental monitoring. Prior to joining ARC, Dr. Ertl co-founded the biotech company Rapid Laboratory Microsystems Inc. (Kitchener, ON, CAN) where he worked as Director of Product Development. During this time he also served on the Board of Directors of this clinical diagnostic start-up venture. Between 2001and 2002 he conducted his postdoctoral training in Prof. Richard Mathis research group at the College of Chemistry, UC Berkeley. In 2001 he received a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Waterloo, ON Canada and in 1997 a Masters in Food Sciences and Biotechnology at the University of Live Sciences and Natural Resources, Vienna Austria.


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