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Micro- and nanofluidics for cell biology
The aim of the workshop was to bring together two different scientific worlds, cell biology, on one hand, and the science of flow at the nano- and micro-scale, on the other hand, which can gain a lot of being combined. Many examples of novel, relevant and promising research work allying these two worlds is found in the literature, while frontier research in cell biology but using microfluidic devices is still very scarce. A reason for this rarity is the difference of languages/jargons spoken by both classes of researchers, making collaborative work difficult and giving rise to a number of misunderstandings.
In that context, the specific goals of this workshop were (i) to bridge the gap between the fields of cell biology and microfluidics, (ii) to initiate a dialogue between researchers from both fields and (iii) hopefully to identify new areas of potential frontier research.
The workshop gathered around 70 scientists in the Lorentz center for a whole week, and covered different aspects of both scientific fields. The program of the week was organized along five biological topics that showed a gradual increase in the complexity of the biological systems, from a small scale (signaling) to a larger scale (systems biology, stem cell, tissues) and ending with small organisms and embryos. Those biological topics were combined with different areas of microfluidic development, and, two additional lectures were placed on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings.
All together, 22 speakers presented their work, with two different types of contributions: plenary lectures for advanced/well-established scientists combining a tutorial section and a research overview, and shorter lectures by younger researchers focusing on more recent developments. In addition to these lectures, a poster session was organized to give the opportunity to all attendants to show their work. The posters were available during the whole workshop and were also briefly introduced as a 2-min oral presentation at the beginning of the week, before the wine and cheese degustation. The last essential ingredient of the workshop was without any doubt, the discussion sessions aiming at debating on identified topics such as the role that microfluidics can play in stem cell research, about microfluidics roadmapping that was summarized in the wrap-up lecture Friday afternoon.
The program contained other leisure-like activities, giving a more relaxing and favorable context for scientific exchange; this notably included two conference diners, one on a boat and the other in the center of Leiden preceded by a walk through the city.
The course of the workshop was evaluated on a daily basis with short morning presentations given by the chairs of the previous day, aiming at highlighting the golden moments of the workshop. Some of them are mentioned here. The number of hits obtained for “cellular signaling” can increase of 0.7 million within less than one day. A 10-micrometer-sized cell contains 23,000 genes. The mechanical behavior of cells can be described by the tensegrity model, which also applies for well-known statues such as the needle tower in the Kröller-Muller museum. Cell signaling does not compare to electrical signals as known by engineers; in a cell signaling pathways are redundant and mainly rely on chemical signals. This essential difference is also commented in a scientific article “Can a biologist fix a radio?”. Solid-state nanofabricated structures can be employed to engineer new phenotypes of bacteria. Microfluidic systems are promising platforms for the culture of embryos.
The discussions naturally brought new material and emphasized the importance of outreach; not only during this workshop but also during follow-up. One immediate action is the use of the participants list to notify the participants to new upcoming events in this field.
At the end of the workshop, the gap between microfluidicists and biologists was narrowed. Microfluidicists certainly returned back home with more biological knowledge e.g., on stem cell biology, and potential contact names for future collaborations. Biologists became aware, if not already, of the existence of micro- and nano-tools that bring novel experimental possibilities and schemes to cellular biology. For instance, the cell signaling field will benefit from microfluidic platforms where the well-defined spatial and temporal patterns of chemical signals found in vivo can be reproduced.
However, more opportunities are still needed in a multidisciplinary context to promote frontier research between microfluidics and cell biology. One identified issue for this is the lack of appropriate funding opportunity to support such frontier research. One possible solution to stimulate collaborations between the two fields is to create common work environment that helps biologists accessing micro-/nano-tools.
This last point led notably to the wish to organize a second edition of the workshop, with a more massive action to outreach biologists. This second workshop could, for that purpose, be organized in the frame of either a biological society such as FEBS, or the Gordon conference network, for instance. The uTAS conference in Groningen can be used to discuss the possibilities in an international context.
The workshop organizers are very grateful to the Lorentz Center team that supported this workshop, especially Auke Planjer, Pauline Vincenten, and Dr. Henriette Jensenius. On other aspects, the workshop would not have been so successful without all the participants, through their oral presentations, posters or active presence during the discussion session. Lastly, the organizers would like to thank all the financial sponsors of the Lorentz Center, as well as the KNAW, the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology, as well as companies that agreed to support the workshop such as FEI, Lionix, Micronit and the Royal Society of Chemistry.
S. Le Gac (Universiteit Twente, The Netherlands)
J.C.T. Eijkel (Universiteit Twente, The Netherlands)
A. van den Berg (Universiteit Twente, The Netherlands)
M.E. Kuil (Universiteit Leiden, The Netherlands)
H.J. Tanke (Leiden Univ.Med.Center, The Netherlands)