Biphasic Droplet Microfluidics in Relation to Pharmaceutical Industrial Biochemical Screening

  • Brett Litten

    Student thesis: Phd


    Many droplet microfluidic assays have been described in the literature over the last decade of research, however, there has been little reported industrial use of droplet microfluidics in drug discovery compound screening, and in particular that of P450 enzyme inhibition assays for profiling drug-drug interactions. This is partly for Intellectual Property reasons, since Pharmaceutical companies do not wish to give away trade secrets in a competitive market, but also because the technology is not yet 'proven' and remains in the proof-of-concept stage. In droplet microfluidics, where at least two liquid phases are encountered, it is important that leakage of material between phases is addressed. This effect has been extensively reported in the literature using fluorescent dyes, however there is very little evidence of research using large compound sets of diverse chemistry. This is probably because few researchers have access to the large pharmaceutical libraries necessary for this work. This project assessed the feasibility of translating a widely used microtitre plate-based P450 enzyme inhibition assay to droplet format; determined the extent of partitioning from droplets using a large pharmaceutical library set and attempted to model this behaviour, and thirdly, considered the pharmacological impact the droplet format may have on the assay.The P450 cytochrome 1A2 enzyme type (isoform) was chosen for translation to the micro-droplet format. Assays of this type are often conducted using fluorogenic substrates, making them favourable for relatively easy fluorescent detection in droplet format using simple optical detection assemblies.Oil selection was investigated to determine which oil systems would be better suited in respect of droplet formation. The use of surfactants in the oil phase and its impact on droplet formation was studied and the synthesis, preparation and characterisation of a custom perfluoropolyether (PFPE) surfactant ('AZF') conducted.Droplet chips were designed and fabricated to produce droplets of 200-300 µm diameter using novel channel designs and sealing techniques. The droplets were analysed by fluorescence spectroscopy using bespoke detector apparatus. Partitioning from aqueous to oil phase was studied for a small range of compounds and oils (with and without surfactant for fluorous oils). Partitioning was lowest using fluorous oils alone, and increased substantially when surfactant was included. Results from the large pharmaceutical test set suggested the percentage of compounds that may partition readily to the oil phase is low even when using surfactant. However, attempts to correlate this to known physicochemical properties and to develop a predictive model for fluorous solubility proved largely unsuccessful. Partitioning in the droplet chip using a droplet collection pooling method was difficult to quantify as a consequence of the profound impact turbulence had on partitioning. Miniaturisation of the P450 cytochrome inhibition assay to the droplet format initially gave poorly reproducible low signals. Possible causes included detector insensitivity, partitioning of reagent and/or fluorescent metabolite over longer incubation times, and binding of the 1A2 P450 cytochrome enzyme-protein at the droplet interface.Protein interaction at the droplet-oil boundary was studied by fluorescence labelling a protein contained in 200µm droplets and observing the extent of fluorescence localisation at the interface by epifluorescent and confocal fluorescence microscopy. The data from this work indicates a pronounced localisation of protein at the droplet interface, possibly leading to enzyme deactivation and the loss of signal seen for the assay in the droplet chip. A number of protein titrations were co-added to the droplets as 'blocking proteins' which were found to improve the reaction output, however were also noted to affect the pharmacology of the assay, noted by an order of magnitude shift in the reported IC
    Date of Award31 Dec 2016
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • The University of Manchester
    SupervisorBernard Treves Brown (Supervisor) & Nicholas Goddard (Supervisor)


    • proteins
    • partitioning
    • screening
    • enzymes
    • microfluidics
    • droplets
    • cytochrome

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