What's So Special about This Startup?

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Tang Xiang, Chen Tianlan and Dong Cheng, the three founders of Digifluidic (from left to right)


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Chen Zeyun, Yangcheng Evening News


"I really didn't expect that the cutting-edge theoretical achievements  that we only saw in academic papers at university have come true, and  they are realized by ourselves."  In Hengqin Innovalley, Tang Xiang, technical  director of Zhuhai Digifluidic Biotech Co., Ltd. (hereinafter referred  to as Digifluidic), holds a microfluidic chip in his hand, and regrets to  the reporter of Yangcheng Evening News.


Digifluidic  is an entrepreneurial project from the laboratory of the University of  Macau. It entered Hengqin, Zhuhai in 2017 for incubation and established  the company in 2018. At the invitation of founders Chen Tianlan and Dong Cheng, Tang Xiang joined as a co-founder.  


When  it comes to the future, Tang hopes that the  team can recruit more like-minded people and sell more sets of products  after mass production. He hopes that through  technological breakthrough, microfluidic chips can be applied in animal  and plant inspection, disease prevention and control, cell DNA analysis  and other aspects, so as to realize the true benefits of science and  technology to the general public.


High-end enterprise out of campus


Walking into Digifluidic, located in Innovalley, I saw that although the sparrow is small, it has all five internal organs - Laboratory, production workshop, office area... Several young people are busy, watching the results in the laboratory, staring at the computer to see the data. This is a new start-up team composed of a group of post-85 and post-90 young people.


According to the requirements of the development planning outline of Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, it is necessary to strengthen the in-depth integration of production, learning and research in Greater Bay Area, support Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macao enterprises, universities and scientific research institutes to build a high-level collaborative innovation platform, and promote the transformation of scientific and technological achievements.


Digifluidic is the forerunner of the cooperation of production, education and research in Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area. In 2017, Chen Tianlan and Dong Cheng, who graduated from the University of Macau with a doctor's degree, entered the Zhuhai UM Science & Technology Research Institute located in Hengqin · Macao Youth Entrepreneurship Innovalley with the automatic nucleic acid detection technology based on digital microfluidics, and carried out the transformation of scientific and technological achievements. Digifluidic has also become the first company founded by the graduate team of the University of Macau.


Tang Xiang, who is also a graduate student of the University of Macau, contacted the team through his senior brother Chen Tianlan. Tang Xiang said that when he was a university student, he often saw the research results published by his senior brothers in journals and magazines. "At that time, I thought these were out of reach." Tang Xiang said with a smile.

"The University of Macau has provided patent authorization for the company, and also helped us to develop the market and connect resources. The professors of the laboratory from the University of Macau are all our technical consultants." Tang Xiang said frankly that it was thanks to the soil of production, learning and research that Digifluidic was able to grow rapidly.


In 2018, Chen Tianlan threw an olive branch to Tang Xiang. "I was working for a big medical device company, dealing with some legal and registration related work, and Digifluidic needed this person." Thinking of witnessing and promoting the transformation of academic theory, Tang Xiang was moved, "this work is more challenging and more suitable for young people."


Improve traditional pain points in detection


According to the introduction, the molecular diagnosis technology based on DNA detection has been widely used in the diagnosis of infectious diseases, tumor diagnosis and agricultural disease detection due to its high sensitivity and specificity. However, the traditional way has complex process, high equipment requirements, time-consuming, easy to pollute, and high requirements for operators and sites. These are exactly the pain points for Digifluidic to solve to enter this field.


Tang Xiang introduced that the automatic nucleic acid detection equipment based on digital microfluidics independently developed by Digifluidic integrates nucleic acid amplification and nucleic acid analysis into a digital microfluidics chip, realizing the programmed control from reaction solution operation, temperature control to fluorescence detection, and the equipment also integrates the nucleic acid extraction scheme, achieving a high degree of automation.


"In short, we combine electronic technology with biological science. You can see that there are different reagents on the chip. During the detection, we drop the extracted solution in, and control the accurate flow direction of the solution through the electronic flow, so that the solution can react with different reagents, so that multiple items can be detected at the same time. " Tang Xiang said.

The reporter saw that the microfluidic chip displayed by Tang Xiang was not as big as his palm. After the reagent reaction, the user inserted the chip into the matching box. After networking, the data can be viewed on the computer end. The operation is simple and fast. The whole process only takes about half an hour.


According to the introduction, the traditional nucleic acid detection scheme has high cost, difficult operation, high requirements for equipment and site, and the detection results may take several hours to complete. Using digital microfluidic chip, 12 kinds of joint detection can be done at a time, which greatly reduces the cost of detection time and reagents.


Steady innovation and change


As a team coming out of the lab, Digifluidic's development has not been smooth. Tang Xiang told reporters that when the team started participating in various innovation competitions, one of the most frequently asked sharp questions was how to control the cost.


The inexperienced young team can only move on really carefully. "Almost all of our team members come from technical background, few of them know how to operate the company, so they have to learn by themselves." After more than a year of technical research, the team finally found the consumables that can reduce the cost. At present, it has been able to control the single test cost to less than 50 yuan.


Recently, Digifluidic's entrepreneurial team is in the busiest time. Their first portable automation equipment and platform for DNA detection, Virus Hunter, is expected to be licensed in the near future, and has entered the stage of intensive debugging. "We need to ensure the stability of mass production. Now every night, there are staff who keep the experimental data until eight or nine o'clock, and strive for no loss."


The product will be launched soon. Tang Xiang is confident of the application prospect of the project. "The project will have more investment in the biological field, mainly focusing on medical aspects, such as testing food safety, parasites and bacteria, agricultural products or animal husbandry."

                        

From  a nine-to-five employee in a large company to an entrepreneur, Tang Xiang  has gradually adapted to the changes in identity and work content since  this year.  Interestingly, although he works in an atmosphere of constant  innovation and change every day, Tang Xiang is not impatient and slow in  speaking, which may be closely related to his entrepreneurial  philosophy.  "In the process of starting a business, my biggest feeling is to be  patient. When I encounter problems and challenges, I always feel that I can't solve them at first, but slowly, step by step, they can  always be solved in the end."





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