Untangling Neurons: Xona Microfluidics

Company Spotlight | In The News
December 5, 2017 By Wendy Wolfson

For neuroscientists, growing and differentiating the tangled strands of nerve cells in the lab for research can be a painstaking process. Xona Microfluidics manufactures a device that enables neuroscientists to grow nerve cells in orderly, separate channels. Used under a microscope, the company’s neuron devices improve cellular organization over traditionally chaotic neuronal cell cultures.

According to Brad Taylor, legal counsel to the company, neurons are very difficult to study in vivo. And it is helpful for axons of neurons to be separated in vitro because otherwise they look like a tangled mess under a microscope. “Our patented device allow axons to grow in micron-sized channels into an axon-only compartment,” said Taylor. The startup has so far supplied over 350 research customers in over 20 countries with its platforms for in vitro cellular organization.

How it works

Xona Microfluidics’ neuron device is currently made from transparent and biologically inert silicone. The dual compartments of the device are connected by microgrooves, allowing researchers to isolate the cell bodies of neurons from their axons. The dual compartment structure allows the ability to independently isolate each compartment. As the total volume of the device is about 600 ul, it requires less expensive reagents typically used in neuronal culture. Xona’s neuron device also makes it possible to perform axotomy (cutting axons via vacuum aspiration in the distal chamber) and observing their regrowth. Currently the approximately 1 inch in diameter device has to be placed directly on a slide.

About the company

Xona Microfluidics, incorporated in 2008, is based in California, with an R&D lab in North Carolina. The company’s neuron device was co-invented by Dr. Anne Taylor, (Brad Taylor’s wife) now assistant professor of biomedical engineering at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Dr. Noo Li Jeon, then at the University of California, Irvine, and Dr. Carl Cotman, professor of neuroscience at UCI. After Taylor published research papers involving the device in Langmuir (2003) and Nature Methods (2005), Prof. Jeon received many requests from neuroscientists around the world for these devices.

Xona currently manufactures its devices in Temecula, California and ships them directly to its customers ─ neuroscientists in university laboratories ─ or to distributors.  “We sell the device to about five to six larger companies that do neuronal research and also have a distribution arrangement with Millipore.” said Taylor.

Xona received a phase II Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant from the NIH to support research and commercialization of the device. “We are enjoying the ability to innovate through funding provided by the NIH.” said Taylor. “We are trying to diversify the product on our own and also be self-sustaining as part of the commercialization effort.”

In November 2017, Xona Microfluidics announced that it received two new patents from the European Patent Office covering the design of its devices for neuroscience research. These European patents add to its exclusivity in Europe, specifically the United Kingdom, Ireland, Switzerland, France, Spain and Germany. Xona already holds the exclusive license to sell and manufacture its neuronal research devices under a U.S. patent. The new patents are assigned to the University of California and licensed exclusively to Xona. Interested companies should contact Xona to discuss opportunities to distribute and or sell their patented devices.