A UW-Milwaukee startup is looking to make its mark with a product to
boost research in a field known as microfluidics, which crosses
disciplines ranging from engineering to biochemistry. Microfluidics
involves operating with and manipulating systems involving minute
volumes of fluids.

Isopoint Technologies’ E-Trap uses applied voltage to isolate particles
inside a fence of electric charge. Unlike current technologies, which
are generally limited to trapping either micro- or nano-scale particles,
E-Trap can do both. This patented technology has been successful in
manipulating larger molecular objects such as a strand of DNA all the
way down to particles at the nano-scale.

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“The key advantages of the E-Trap over current technologies are
versatility, ease of use and scalability; trapping particles at both the
micro- and nano-scale is as simple as flipping a switch,” said company
founder Alex Francis. “Other technologies are limited to either the
micro-scale or the nano-scale, but not both.”

The E-Trap consists of a special laboratory slide, with a thin
metallic coating applied to it. In the center of the slide is a circular
area, where no treatment has been placed. By applying a charge to the
coated area, particles inside the untreated circle become trapped in a
kind of force field, where scientists can make observations.

The company says this electrostatic particle trap, or E-Trap,
provides researchers with time and cost savings, as well as improved
sample preservation. Processes that previously required large laboratory
devices can be downsized and performed in something the size of a
microscope slide.

Francis, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering, founded
Isopoint Technologies LLC in 2014 with UW-Milwaukee associate professor
of chemistry Jorg Woehl, who originally developed the patented E-Trap
technology. Francis and Woehl quickly began their partnership after
meeting through a class at the university.

“Microfluidic devices are a key component of this product, which
uses micro-liters of fluid; they are simply small channels that can
direct the solution that contains the particles of interest towards the
electrostatic trap,” said Francis. “Imagine if you kick a soccer ball
down a field with your eyes closed, and hope to score a goal; the
microfluidic device is like creating a pathway or walls that direct the
ball towards the goal. In this case the ball is a micro- or nano-scale
particle, like a DNA molecule for example, and the goal is the
electrostatic trap, which traps the ball.”

The microfluidic device market is growing: it’s gone from $750
million in 2008, to an estimated $3.9 billion in 2016. Some of the
market segments include: pharmaceutical and life sciences research,
clinical diagnostics, point of care diagnostics, and drug delivery. The
pharmaceutical and life sciences research segment is predicted to reach
$1.5 billion alone.

There are more than 200 microfluidic related companies, and 300
microfluidic research labs operating worldwide. Many methods have been
developed and used for observing and manipulating single microscopic
particles, but other techniques often have limitations to how they can
be applied, they are often costly, and they can be complex.

The company says its patented E-Trap technology offers a relatively
simple and affordable solution. The E-Trap can also preserve the
sample’s integrity over successive observations better than current
trapping systems.

Isopoint Technologies aims to start its operation with early
adopters in the Milwaukee area, such as universities, and the Blood
Center of Wisconsin. Once manufacturing can scale-up from in-house
manufacturing at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the goal is to
move to external device fabrication facilities.

Isopoint Technologies hopes to remain in the Milwaukee area, and
create new jobs for the city. The new facilities they aim to create
should also be able to further enhance the commercialization of related
technologies, including water and biomedical technologies developed by
UW System participants.

— By Adam Hitchon, for WisBusiness.com. Hitchon is a student in the UW-Madison Department of Life Sciences Communication.