wetlab bench

Since the 1970s, the cost of drug development has skyrocketed to $2.9 billion [0]. While this number is astounding, the burden of creating new treatments could be justified because of the mass-manufacturable outcome (pills) that would eventually drop in price when it moved into the public domain. However, recent advances in genetically tailored therapies points to a future where treatment will be personalized on demand by means of billions of liquid tests pushing individual treatments up into the six figures [1]. Unfortunately, current automation platforms (robotic systems) rely on pumps, tubing and consumable plastic pipette tips that are bulky, unreliable and expensive. The current system of expensive development, with costs recouped on the treatment side, may be un-scalable.

To explore other ways of conducting liquid testing, our team explored a low-cost (<$100 USD) electrowetting platform. Electrowetting works by changing the hydrophobicity (water repelling behavior) of certain surfaces based on electrical charges. We discovered that repeatable operations were possible and that the system was capable of running many operations in parallel. We built a usable minimum prototype and pitched at YCombinator.

[0] Mullin, Rick. “Cost to develop new pharmaceutical drug now exceeds $2.5 B.” Scientific American 24 (2014).
[1] Hagen, T. “Novartis sets a price of $475,000 for CAR T-cell therapy. OncoLive.” (2017).

  • Hacker sprint
  • Experiments and exploration of an electro-wetting platform for wetlab-in-a-box or low cost drug development applications.
notable roles
  • Hardware interface design
  • Created programmable environment for managing multiple droplet motions per clock cycle

Pitch video for Dropl digital fluidic platform.

Using a digital platoform requires thinking about chemistry as operations ocurring in parallel. In a typical automated system, this is achieved by using disposable pipettes, reliant on pumps and valves. With electrowetting, the chemistry of the surface repels liquids. By temporarily changing the repellent nature of the board we can change where droplets "prefer" to be.

Our proposal was a digital board which leveraged the principal of electrowetting to manipulate µm scale droplets on an xy stage.
The vision is to create a clean, digital wetlab - an enclosed desktop box allowing biologists to programmatically interact liquids and organisms in a sterile environment.