Speaker: Dr. Mirela Alistar, Hasso Plattner Institute, Germany
Title: Personal Biochips
In our work, we investigate how to ubiquitize healthcare by moving the process of diagnosis away from labs and doctors and towards patients. As of today, diagnosis requires patients to see a doctor to provide samples which are then sent off to a wetlab. The lab then conducts tests on the samples and reports back to the doctor who ultimately reports back to the patient. This process tends to extend over the course of days or even weeks – valuable time during which patients live in uncertainty and during which disease is allowed to spread. What if instead doctors could perform the tests while the patient is waiting? Or, what if we could empower patients to perform selected tests even at home, as part of their decision whether to see a doctor in the first place?
We pursue this vision by creating cyber-physical systems based on small electronic devices called biochips. Biochips manipulate droplets of fluids by executing “bio-protocols” – simple programs that move, split, and mix droplets with chemical compounds (so-called "reagents"). Biochips thereby automate processes traditionally performed manually in wet labs. The main potential behind biochips stems from the fact that they are capable of running different bio-protocols. Ideally, this reduces the challenge of performing a new analysis to downloading a new bio protocol, thereby effectively turning diagnosis into a software problem that has the potential to scale the way software scales.
In order to enable the transition towards doctors and ultimately patients, we are working on ways to design biochips that can be operated at the level of the expertise of doctors and patients. We design and fabricate novel biochip hardware (recently adopted by researchers at MIT, the University of Washington, etc.) and develop system-level software (real-time compilation and fault-tolerant synthesis). We are currently developing a user-facing system that allows users to edit bio-protocols interactively.
Mirela Alistar is a Postdoc at Prof. Baudisch’s Human Computer Interaction Lab at the Hasso Plattner Institute in Germany. In 2014, Mirela received her PhD in computer engineering from the Technical University of Denmark, where she worked on system-level design of embedded systems, with a special focus on digital microfluidic biochips. In her research, Mirela investigates the extent to which can we change healthcare to make it a personal process. So far, Mirela has built systems based on biochips to serve as personal laboratories: small portable devices that people can own and use to develop customized bio-protocols ("bio-apps").
Mirela’s work is published at top-tier journals and conferences (IEEE TCAD) and demonstrated at venues such as IEEE ESWeek and Molecular Communications. Mirela has served as guest editor for Current Biotechnology Journal (CBNT) and as reviewer for venues like Applied Materials and Interfaces, TCAD, TVLSI, JETC, ToDAES, TBioCAS and NanoCom. In order to engage the society in critical analysis of the technology, Mirela has led and founded community wetlabs in Copenhagen and Berlin, where she organizes monthly workshops to promote personal biochips to enthusiasts of diverse backgrounds (e.g., engineering, art, design). You can learn more about Mirela’s work at her personal website: personallab.org.