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Home > Tech Reiews > Tech Report Last Updated: 15:26 03/09/2007
Tech Report #29: July 15, 2003

Tokyo University Professor Kitamori's Biotechnology Research

Victor G. Stickel (Technology Analyst, ATIP)

Prof. Takehito Kitamori's group has three primary interests;

  1. Integrated Chemistry Lab on Glass
  2. Liquid Phase Chemistry in Microspace
  3. Spectroscopic Chemical Analysis for Single Molecule and Single Cluster in Liquid Phase.

Research (Lab-on-Chip)

Prof. Kitamori's major research focus is currently in the first area mentioned above. Within this area, Prof. Kitamori's group is currently manufacturing and experimenting with small Pyrex glass slides which are approximately the size of a stick of gum. These slides have embedded microfluidic circuitry within them created by standard photolithography and wet chemical etching techniques. Once the microfluidic channels have been etched, a glass layer must be attached to the surface. To that end, they have found that bonding laminates to glass is one of the most difficult problem facing their research thus far. Presently, Prof. Kitamori has been producing "2-D" circuits, i.e. circuits on a single laminate. These 2-D structures can perform up to 40 individual steps or processes and are merely limited to space constraints. Typical channel dimensions are in the range of 20 μm in depth and 100 μm in width. In order to add additional processes, they are currently working on "3-D" or multi-laminate structures. The slides, sometimes referred to as Lab-on-Chip, perform various chemical processes (e.g. , mixing, separation, etc.) and can produce anywhere from 100kg to 1 ton of product per year. Since, at this time, there are really no microfluidic components available for mounting on these chips such as; valves, connectors, regulators, etc. Prof. Kitamori's group has circumvented this problem by developing continuous flow processing techniques for unit chemical operations including; mixing and reacting, solvent extraction, phase separation, solid-phase extraction, heating and clean-up. Thus, there is a need for the MEMS community to develop these microfluidic components for Lab-on-Chip applications.

The chips that Prof. Kitamori's Group is producing have a host of applications in many fields such as genetic engineering, combinatorial chemistry, bioengineering, environmental science, health care, etc. In addition to chemical production, Prof. Kitamori envisions these chips being used for chemical analysis and chemical synthesis as well. One example of the latter usage includes the synthesis of a small nylon membrane across the junction of two merging channels. This membrane can be used as a filter or screen for separation purposes.

An example of the former application includes the development of a colon cancer screening test in which the time for result was decreased from the customary 2-3 days to a mere 30 minutes. Additionally the samples size needed was decreased from several ml to 0.1 ul, sensitivity was increased 100 fold and accuracy was an astounding 100%.

Research (Thermal Lens Microscope)

Prof. Kitamori is also working on using a thermal lens to develop an ultra sensitive analytical method for chemical detection in liquids. Single molecule detection in liquids has proved to be a daunting task in the past due to large amount of background noise generated from surrounding solvent molecules. Until now, techniques which rely on molecular fluorescence, namely LIF (Laser Induced Fluorescence) have been employed. However, since approximately 99% of chemicals are non-fluorescing, Prof. Kitamori has developed a highly sensitive photo-thermal microscope for these materials which relies on effects of light converted to heat. It has a sensitivity of approximately 1 in 30 billion molecules. In order to develop the microscope a very small sample distribution was need at first; a difficulty in itself due to the scales and resolutions involved. This microscope can be used to detect any type of chemical (i.e. fluorescing as well as non-fluorescing) and will allow the study of dynamics of molecules in single quantum states, thermalization processes on a molecular level and molecular behavior in intercellular space.

Prof. Kitamori has been working with other researchers to miniaturize components of the thermal-lens microscope in the hopes that it can be integrated into his Lab-on-Chip devices.


In addition to his research efforts, Prof. Kitamori is busy managing and proposing several other new efforts. The first of which is a national research project sponsored by METI entitled Integrated Chemical Systems. It is a recent project scheduled which began in April, 2002. The project has a 5 year 30 billion JPY (US$300 million) budget and centers on industry-based research. It involves approximately 30-40 companies who are broken up into three groups according to their expertise. The groups can be roughly categorized into analytical, fabrication and synthesis specialties.

Prof. Kitamori's second major program is being sponsored by Monbusho under the heading of Chemistry, Physics and Micromachines and concerns chemically modified microspace. The project started in 2001 and will finish in 2004 with a budget of 500 million yen (US$ 5 million). The money is distributed among University research groups and is roughly 10 million JPY (US $100K) per group. The research includes the development of experimental tools for the manipulation and measurement of very small volumes of liquid and covers areas such as controlled chemical reactions, stereoscopic control, stereo synthesis, and cluster chemistry to examine liquid structure.

Dr Kitamori also has a laboratory at the Kanagawa Academy of Science and Technology (KAST) which is 240 m2 consisting of a microfabrication area, chemical physics laboratory and a clean room.

Professor Takehito Kitamori's affiliation and webpage:
Department of Applied Chemistry, School of Engineering, University of Tokyo

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