Microfluidic Device for the Study and Treatment of Biofilm Formation in Environmental, Medical, or Industrial Devices

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Methods and Microfluidic Device for the Study, Testing and Treatment of Biofilm Formation in Environmental, Medical, or Industrial Devices 


Docket # 13-2880


Researchers at Princeton University have developed a microfluidic system and method to investigate biofilm morphologies under more realistic physical conditions which could be used to screen potential inhibitors of biofilm formation or to optimize the engineering of such devices prone to biofilm formation.

The system, comprises a fluid flowing along the channel driven by a controlled pressure, which can measure biofilm and/or biofilm streamer formation, growth, morphology changes and the flow rate of the fluid. The invention shows that accumulation of surface-attached biofilm has little effect on flow through non-uniform environments, whereas biofilm streamers cause sudden and rapid clogging. Using commercially available stents we demonstrated that flow-induced shedding of extracellular matrix from surface-attached biofilms generate a sieve-like network that captures cells and other biomass, which add to the existing network, resulting in exponentially fast clogging independent of growth. These results suggest that biofilm streamers are ubiquitous in nature and strongly affect flow through porous materials in environmental, industrial, and medical systems. The invention further shows that quorum sensing-mediated communication is important for clogging and can be used to drastically delay or possibly eliminate biofilm formation.

Overall, the invention identifies methods to quantify biofilm clogging, biofilm-induced failure in flow systems, and the influence of different channel designs, as well as a means to test efficacy of biocides in flow systems.



•       Microfluidic device for the analysis and testing of biofilm formation and morphology

•       Assay for identification of biofilm inhibitors

•       Testing of efficacy of biocides in flow system



•       Allows for real time testing of  biofilm morphology

•       Working prototype is available



Drescher, K., Shen Y., Bassler, B. L., Stone, H. A. “Biofilm streamers cause catastrophic disruption of flow with consequences for environmental and medical systems”, PNAS, March 12, 2013, vol. 110, no. 11, pages 4345-4350.


Faculty Inventors

Bonnie L. Bassler, Princeton's Squibb Professor in Molecular Biology and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, is a world leader in the science of quorum sensing and the study of how bacteria communicate. Bassler has won numerous awards, including the 2012 L’Oreal-UNESCO For Women in Science Award. In 2011 she was awarded the Richard Lounsbery Award by the National Academy of Sciences, of which she was elected as member in 2006. Bassler is also a recipient of the 2002 MacArthur Foundation genius award. 

Martin F. Semmelhack, Professor of Chemistry and Associate Chair was one of the 2013 recipients of the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Awards. Ten Cope Scholar Awards are given annually "to recognize and encourage excellence in organic chemistry." Professor Semmelhacks’ research focus is in the following areas; the application of organic chemistry to problems in biology; the chemistry of bacterial signaling; the isolation and structure determination of new signaling molecules, synthesis of the signals and analog structures, and evaluation of their biological activity

Howard A. Stone is the Donald R. Dixon '69 and Elizabeth W. Dixon Professor of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering and Acting Director, Keller Center for Innovation in Engineering Education. In addition to being a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, in 2008, Professor Stone was the winner of the inaugural Batchelor Prize sponsored by the Journal of Fluid Mechanics for the breadth and depth of his research over a 10-year period (1998-2007) and for his widely acknowledged leadership in fluid mechanics generally.


Intellectual Property Status

Patent protection is pending.

Industry collaborators are sought to further develop and commercialize this technology. A working prototype for the device is available along with a propriety lead small molecule.



Laurie Tzodikov

Princeton University Office of Technology Licensing • (609) 258-7256• tzodikov@princeton.edu

Sangeeta Bafna

Princeton University Office of Technology Licensing • (609) 258-5579• sbafna@princeton.edu


Patent Information:
For Information, Contact:
Cortney Cavanaugh
New Ventures and licensing associate
Princeton University
Bonnie Bassler
Howard Stone
Martin Semmelhack
Knut Drescher
Yi Shen
Colleen O'loughlin
Laura Miller Conrad
life science research tools
medical device