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A New Inexpensive Technology for Multiplexed Detection

ou could have 100 types of particles and mix them together," he said.

The researchers' particle fabrication method gives them exquisite control over the particles' shape and chemical characteristics.

As two streams of monomers (liquid precursors loaded with fluorescent dye or molecular probe) flow side by side through a microfluidic device, ultraviolet light repeatedly strikes the streams. A chemical reaction initiated by the light causes the liquid to solidify, forming a single particle with two distinct ends. Each particle takes on the shape of a "mask" (similar to a transparency film) through which the UV light is aimed.

One end of each particle is a fluorescent "dot-pattern" barcode that reveals what the target molecule of the particle is, and the other end is loaded with a probe and only turns fluorescent if the target molecule is present. The particles can also be designed to each test for multiple targets, by adding several unique regions.

"We can make the particles, encode them and add functionality all in a single step," said Pregibon.

When a mixture of particles is added to a test sample, target molecules (DNA, proteins, etc.) will bind to the region of the particles containing the corresponding probe. This interaction can be detected by fluorescence, which is brighter when more of the target is present.

To rapidly "read" the particles, the researchers designed a custom "flow cytometer" using a microfluidic device and standard microscope. In this flow-through system, the oblong, disk-like shape of the particles ensures that they are precisely aligned for accurate scanning. Each time a particle flows past a detector, its barcode is read and the corresponding target is quantified.

The microparticles are inexpensive because they can be produced efficiently in a single step. The design of the particles also makes the scanning devices cheaper. With multiple distinct regions, the
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