This week Biodesic shipped an engineering prototype of the LavaAmp PCR thermocycler to Gahaga Biosciences. Joseph Jackson and Guido Nunez-Mujica will be showing it off on a road trip through California this week, starting this weekend at BilPil. The intended initial customers are hobbyists and schools. The price point for new LavaAmps should be well underneath the several thousand dollars charged for educational thermocyclers that use heater blocks powered by peltier chips.
The LavaAmp is based on the convective PCR thermocycler demonstrated by Agrawal et al, which has been licensed from Texas A&M University to Gahaga. Under contract from Gahaga, Biodesic reduced the material costs and power consumption of the device. We started by switching from the aluminum block heaters in the original device (expensive) to thin film heaters printed on plastic. A photo of the engineering prototype is below (inset shows a cell phone for scale). PCR reagents, as in the original demonstration, are contained in a PFTE loop slid over the heater core. Only one loop is shown for demonstration purposes, though clearly the capacity is much larger.
The existing prototype has three independently controllable heating zones that can reach 100C. The device can be powered either by a USB connection or an AC adapter (or batteries, if desired). The USB connection is primarily used for power, but is also used to program the temperature setpoints for each zone. The design is intended to accommodate additional measurement capability such as real-time fluorescence monitoring.
We searched hard for the right materials to form the heaters and thin film conductive inks are a definite win. They heat very quickly and have almost zero thermal mass. The prototype, for example, uses approximately 2W whereas the battery-operated device in the original publication used around 6W.
What we have produced is an engineering prototype to demonstrate materials and controls -- the form factor will certainly be different in production. It may look something like a soda can, though I think we could probably fit the whole thing inside a 100ml centrifuge tube.
The prototype necessarily looks a bit rough around the edges as some parts were worked by hand where they would normally be done by machine (I never have liked working with polycarbonate). We have worked hard to make sure that the LavaAmp can be transitioned relatively seamlessly from prototype quantities, to small lot productions, to high-volume production. The electronic hardware is designed to easily transition to fabrication as a single IC, all the plastic bits can be injection molded, and the heater core can be printed using a variety of high-throughput electronicss fabrication methods.
Next up will be field trials with a selected group of labs, as well as more work on refining the loading of the loops.