Zebrafish is an ideal large-scale chemical screening model with a unique biological and physiological characteristics that make high-throughput screening feasible. There are now an estimated 3,000 universities, research institutes and companies from over 100 countries running genetic, physiological, environmental or medical testing on Zebrafish. However, most researchers might have felt some inconvenience from the most widely purchased chemical screen using live zebrafish, and its technical limitations hinder productivity. In view of this situation, a UM team has developed a system that will solve the most common and frustrating technical barriers of screening in zebrafish.
According to Prof Li Cheuk Wing, an assistant professor of the Institute of Chinese Medical Sciences (ICMS) who serves as one of the project investigators, high-tech components such as the high-throughput microfluidic chip and the integrated microfluidic chip were developed by UM laboratories. The former chip can replace the industry standard 96-well plates and allows researchers to control how fish are positioned. The latter chip functions like a camera, automatically producing clear images of the organs for further studies. ‘The screen has broken many limitations, especially in terms of operations. It has largely increased our efficiency for the most economical results that no other products of this kind could be compared with,’ says Prof Li.
Potential Investors Have Arrived
Prof Lee Ming Yuen, the other project investigator, who is also an ICMS professor, notes that there is a significant demand for such a product. He adds that many government units, business companies, research institutions, and pharmaceutical companies have been using live zebrafish for various purposes, for instance, to screen out environmental pollutants, gutter oil (for food safety), and toxins in cosmetic products, or to collect data for healthcare research studies. ‘There has been a great demand for our device. So far we only consider one foreign product as our competitor in the international market. This product could only automatically process one zebrafish at one time,’ says Prof Lee. ‘Meanwhile, our screen is fully automatic and is able to work with over 200 fish at the same time. The throughput of chemical screening and imaging capacities of our product are over 100 times better than that of the foreign brand.’ Prof Lee looks forward to promoting this technology on the international market.
In 2017, the screen made its debut at a roadshow contest of the Cross Straits, Hong Kong and Macao Collaborative Innovation Forum in Macao. It was recognised by the competition jury for its innovative design and quality. ‘One of the judges was very interested in our project and even remarked that the product is worth investing in. The reason why we started this project is quite simple – for our own use in the laboratory. It is very encouraging when many experts and scholars from different countries and regions say they want one after visiting our lab.’ The process of quality control is currently ongoing and Prof Lee expects the quality and safety accreditation to be completed by the end of this year. At that time, the new product will be ready for launch.