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Fluidigm and Berkeley Lab Awarded Phase II STTR Grant to Develop Microfluidic Chip for in Situ Diffraction of Protein Crystals

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Fluidigm Corporation and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have received funding from The National Institutes of Health (NIH)  to develop a microfluidic chip for collection of in situ X-ray diffraction data.

The diffraction-capable chip will be designed so that protein crystals can be screened at a synchrotron without having to first remove them from the chip.

This technology will allow researchers to identify the crystals for diffraction experiments using actual X-ray data rather than relying on qualitative measures, such as visual inspection.

This chip-based method will be made to eliminate the need to manipulate crystals prior to data collection, a step that often results in mechanical damage to the fragile crystals.

“In this tight funding environment, receiving an STTR [Small Business Technology Transfer] phase II grant attests to the value that the NIH places on our crystallization technology,” said Fluidigm CEO Gajus Worthington.

Fluidigm pioneered the field of microfluidic, or chip-based, protein crystallization, marketed as the TOPAZ® system.

The grant includes funding for instrument modifications at the synchrotron facility, where scientists would send the diffraction-capable chips containing intact crystals.

Diffraction data will be collected from every experiment in the chip and then deposited on-line.

This preliminary diffraction data will allow users to focus their efforts on the crystallization conditions that produce the best diffracting crystals, providing the savings in time and cost.

Fluidigm scientist Dr. Andrew May and Berkeley Lab scientist Dr. James Holton are principal investigators on the grant, which represents Phase II of the project, and spans from proof of concept to a commercially viable product.

Completion of the work is expected within two years.

“X-ray diffraction data is the only objective way to determine the quality of protein crystals. This chip will provide routine access to that data much earlier in the structure determination process than is currently possible,” added Dr. May.