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Volume 2, 2013

This heading might look like a calculation but of course it isn’t. Recently MESA+ welcomed their fiftieth spin-off. eMALDI, a company that makes controlled evaporation of droplets possible. This, for instance, ensures fast and reliable blood tests.

The idea behind eMALDI actually surfaced from a ‘Friday afternoon experiment’. That’s what scientists call tests they do that are indirectly connected with their research. Such experiments are often conducted on a Friday afternoon. Researchers of the Physics of Complex Fluids group wanted to have a droplet of liquid evaporate in a controlled fashion. The fact of the matter is that droplets generally evaporate in an irregular fashion. Imagine for instance – it is after all Friday afternoon – a droplet of wine. No wine stain is the same. Wouldn’t it be great if we could make uniform stains, preferably with no ring, i.e. very compact, was the original idea of the researchers. They thought they could do just that by using voltage. And after many attempts using different amperages and surfaces these students at Twente ultimately did produce the ideal stain.

Analyst made superfluous
It wasn’t long before these researchers from Twente found that controlled evaporation wasn’t just fun for a Friday afternoon with wine, but that there are also useful applications on the horizon to be discovered. For instance, hospitals use the MALDI technique to test blood. To do this they allow droplets of blood to evaporate and then use a laser to measure what’s in the residue. That MALDI technique did not actually work very well. This is because the drop of blood dries in an irregular fashion and leaves a ring behind. An analyst then has to examine each stain and, using a joystick, focus the laser on the stain he thinks is representative of the blood droplet. ‘We must be able to improve that’, thought the researchers. The result was eMALDI, the electrically improved version of MALDI. With eMALDI the droplet of blood dries neatly and a good, homogeneous pile of residue precipitates in the centre. This allows the laser to analyse the complete stain in one go, making the test much more reliable. Moreover, the analysis can be automated because the droplet always precipitates on the same place. In other words the analyst can use the joystick to play a game or concentrate on more constructive work.
Burak Eral, co-founder of eMALDI: “Many doctors simply shrug off the MALDI analysis. They prefer to carry out athree-day, old-fashioned, but reliable test rather than get an unreliable MALDI result within a couple of hours. But eMALDI does make fast blood analyses reliable. This means that doctors win valuable time. For example: this is of vital importance regarding blood tests connected with cancer treatments.”

Curiosity leads to business
That sounds almost too good to be true. Where can we buy eMALDI? Eral: “We have made a prototype of the actual core of the technique. Next year we intend to improve the prototype. After that it’s a matter of showing potential customers that the principle does work and that we can mass produce it. And then? What does the future hold in store if the next five years go according to plan? Eral: “The market for chemical analysis apparatus is in the hands of a couple of large companies. One of these analysis giants will probably take us over in the future.”
And so what started as a Friday afternoon experiment emerged as a business. Eral: “And that’s partly thanks to MESA+. They have given us enormous support. From technicians to management. They gave us the space, the time and the facilities to follow our curiosity and realise our dream.”

NAME : Burak Eral (1981)
POSITION : Technical manager of the ME SA+ spin-off eMAL DI and postgraduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT, in the United States). eMAL DI is a spin-off from the Physics of Complex Fluids group headed by Frieder Mugele. eMAL DI improves the MAL DI analysis technique by means of controlled evaporation of a fluid by means of electricity. Eral studies gels and other substances that can be used to dissolve poorly soluble medicines at the MIT
PREVIOUSLY: He obtained his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Bogazici University, Istanbul (Turkey). Completed his master’s programme at the University of California in Santa Barbara (U.S.) Then worked for one year at an analytical chemistry company he had worked with on his master’s research. Obtained his doctorate at Twente on the development of microfluidic methods for manipulating soft condensed substances. Was a postgraduate at Twente and patented the technology that led to eMAL DI ME SA+...“Gave us the space, the time and the facilities to follow our curiosity and realise our dream”