A microfluidic Braille valve platform for on-demand production, combinatorial screening and sorting of chemically distinct droplets

Nat Protoc. 2022 Dec;17(12):2920-2965. doi: 10.1038/s41596-022-00740-4. Epub 2022 Oct 19.


Droplet microfluidics is a powerful tool for a variety of biological applications including single-cell genetics, antibody discovery and directed evolution. All these applications make use of genetic libraries, illustrating the difficulty of generating chemically distinct droplets for screening applications. This protocol describes our Braille Display valving platform for on-demand generation of droplets with different chemical contents (16 different reagents and combinations thereof), as well as sorting droplets with different chemical properties, on the basis of fluorescence signals. The Braille Display platform is compact, versatile and cost efficient (only ~US$1,000 on top of a standard droplet microfluidics setup). The procedure includes manufacturing of microfluidic chips, assembly of custom hardware, co-encapsulation of cells and drugs into droplets, fluorescence detection of readout signals and data analysis using shared, freely available LabVIEW and Python packages. As a first application, we demonstrate the complete workflow for screening cancer cell drug sensitivities toward 74 conditions. Furthermore, we describe here an assay enabling the normalization of the observed drug sensitivity to the number of cancer cells per droplet, which additionally increases the robustness of the system. As a second application, we also demonstrate the sorting of droplets according to enzymatic activity. The drug screening application can be completed within 2 d; droplet sorting takes ~1 d; and all preparatory steps for manufacturing molds, chips and setting up the Braille controller can be accomplished within 1 week.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Assay*
  • Cell Movement
  • Microfluidics* / methods