Lab-on-a-chip and other breakthrough work to help patients with mental illness

Hadar Ben-Yoav and Thomas Winkler spend their days in University of Maryland’s Fabrication Lab, developing the lab-on-a-chip prototype for schizophrenia treatment monitoring. While I ate chicken pesto and updated the Foundation’s Facebook page, they worked with high tech instruments, fabricating intensely small microchips that will (hopefully) someday make a schizophrenic’s already troubled life a bit easier. The goal is to create a device that simplifies the incredibly taxing notion (task?) of getting blood drawn weekly in order to regulate the level of Clozapine, the antipsychotic drug used to treat the disorder in the blood stream.

In order to help me wrap my right brain around their very left brain work, Hadar and Thomas graciously invited me into their Fabrication Lab. Clothed head to toe in traditional fab-lab garb – hair cover, shoe covers, gloves and lab coat – I briefly entered into their world. They gave me an abridged run down on how the process works – it’s all done with incredibly small tools and requires a great amount of patience and precision. All the hard work has been years in the making.

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It all started in 2006 when Professor William Bentley and his colleagues, Professors Gary RubloffReza Ghodssi, and Greg Payne envisioned the launch of a new research program focusing on controlling biology at the nanoscale.  The program would require their collective expertise in bioengineering, electrical engineering, material science and nanotechnology to design, build and test new devices and thus the BioChip collaborative was born. The team sought support from the Deutsch Foundation for post-doctoral and graduate fellowships to work with them in their “biofab” research programs and collaborate across their respective disciplines.

Now seven years later, Ben-Yoav is completing his post-doctoral fellowship at UMD under Dr. Reza Ghodssi who is the Director of the Institute for Systems Research. On Ben-Yoav’s team is Ph.D. student, Thomas Winkler, a Fulbright scholar from Austria and doctoral candidate Sheryl Chocron. Together, with the post doctoral associate, Dr. Eunkyoung Kim, in Payne’s groupthe team is working on the Lab-on-the-chip (LOC) project for schizophrenic patients on Clozapine in collaboration with Dr. Deanna L. Kelly, while other PhD students like Mariana Meyer are working with bacterial biofilms in microfluidic platforms in search of a drug treatment. For those unfamiliar, biofilm is a nasty circumstance for many folks and can prevent treatment of infections or worse.

Funds supplied by the Deutsch Foundation over the past seven years have been doubled, tripled and quadrupled as the senior faculty and their research fellows have garnered ever-increasing recognition in the field and support for their efforts – state-of-the-art work that will change the scope of comprehensive mental and physical health treatment as we know it.  The Robert W. Deutsch Foundation remains a proud supporter of the MEMS Sensors and Actuators Laboratory and the BioFab collaboration.

-TD

Other support for this project includes but is not limited to TEDCO under the Maryland Innovation Initiative.

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