Microfluidic Molecular Communications: Design, Theory, and Manufacture

Lead Research Organisation: King's College London
Department Name: Informatics

Abstract

Molecular communication (MC) provides a way for nano/microdevices to communicate information over distance via chemical signals in nanometer to micrometer scale environments. The successful realization of MC will allow its future main applications, including drug delivery and environmental monitoring. The main hindrance for the MC application stands in the lack of nano/micro-devices capable of processing the time-varying chemical concentration signals in the biochemical environment. One promising solution is to design and implement programmable digital and analog building blocks, as they are fundamental building blocks for the signal processing at MC transceivers. With two existing approaches in realizing these building blocks, namely, biological circuits and chemical circuits, synthesizing biological circuits faces challenges such as slow speed, unreliability, and non-scalability, which motivates us to design novel chemical circuits-based functions for rapid prototyping and testing communication systems.

Conventional chemical circuits designs are mainly based on chemical reaction networks (CRNs) to achieve various concentration transformation during the steady state from the input to the output with all chemical reactions occurring in same "point" location. This kind of design does not fit for the time-varying signals in communication system due to that the temporal information can be invisible to even state-of-the-art molecular sensors with high chemical specificity that respond only to the total amount of the signaling molecules. Thus, this project aims to design the chemical reaction-based microfluidic MC prototypes with time-varying chemical signal processing functionalities, including modulation and
demodulation, encoding and decoding, emission and detection. This also facilitates the microfluidic drug delivery prototype design and cancer cell on chip testing under time-varying drug concentration signal.

This project has the ambitious vision to develop novel time-varying chemical concentration signal processing methodology for microfluidic MC and microfluidic drug delivery. In the long run,
1) our microfluidic MC results will enable the implementation of MC functionality into nanoscale machines, by downsizing the proposed components through the utilization of nanomaterials with fluidic properties, and by translating the functional chemistry into biological circuit designs;
2) our microfluidic drug delivery results will revolutionize the conventional drug delivery testing approach by enabling ICT technologies for novel in-vitro microfluidics for drug delivery, allowing rapid measurement of therapeutic effect, toxicology, to reduce development costs and minimize the use of animal models.

Planned Impact

The MIMIC project is the UK's first innovative effort to realize the signal processing and communication capabilities of the microfluidic device via chemical reactions, to address its fundamental theoretical and experimental aspects of microfluidic molecular communication, and to exploit efficient in-vitro drug delivery on cancer cell on chip.

The general communication and detection of nano/micro-devices are important to achieve precision embedded sensing and actuation in a wide range of future applications, including environmental monitoring, and drug delivery. The economic potential of this idea is enormous, which we can estimate by looking at the related market for nano-medicine (such as precision drug delivery): studies estimate the present market size at $96.9 billion (2016), with a 14.1% per year growth (BCC Research Report). This project contributes to "Digital Signal Processing" and "Microsystems" EPSRC research areas, and also directly aligns to the EPSRC Healthcare Technologies Grand Challenges by developing the enabling ICT technologies for the novel in vitro microfluidics for drug delivery.

The immediate beneficiaries will be the telecommunication, microfluidics, and drug delivery industries, in particular, our industry partners, Elveflow, and Mediwise. We will exploit the economic impact of our microfluidic prototypes 1) for delivering drugs to cancer cell on chip in the conditions closest to the physiological conditions via working with Elveflow; 2) for intelligent insulin delivery, with potential integration with Mediwise's GlucoWise platform with blood glucose monitoring capability. The long-term benefits of molecular communication research, as a potential enabling technology for the nanoscale communication in 6G, will also be exploited with IEEE P1906.1.1 standard committee on nanoscale communication system and Wireless World Research Forum (WWRF).

From the academic impact perspective, our communication components design, analysis, and optimization based on chemical circuits and microfluidics contribute to the field of molecular communication; our chemical circuits analysis and design contributes to the field of chemistry and synthetic biology; our flow-based microfluidic analysis and design contributes to the field of microfluidics; and our microfluidic drug delivery prototype contributes to the field of drug delivery. In the long run, 1) our microfluidic MC results will enable the implementation of MC functionality into nanoscale machines, by downsizing the proposed components through the utilization of nanomaterials with fluidic properties, and by translating the functional chemistry into biological circuit designs; 2) our microfluidic drug delivery results will revolutionize the conventional drug delivery testing approach by enabling ICT technologies for novel in-vitro microfluidics for drug delivery, allowing rapid measurement of therapeutic effect, toxicology, to reduce development costs and minimize the use of animal models.

By bringing together academic experts from chemistry, microfluidics, drug delivery, and molecular communication, as well as industry practitioners in microfluidics and bioengineering, we are able to cross-fertilize academic research between disparate but important disciplines and accelerate the molecular communication industry.

Publications

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