A new process revolutionizes microfluidic manufacturing

Microfluidic devices use tiny spaces to manipulate very small amounts of liquids and gases by taking advantage of the properties they exhibit at the microscopic scale. They have demonstrated their usefulness in applications ranging from inkjet printing to chemical analysis and have great potential in personal medicine, where they can miniaturize many tests that now require a full laboratory, giving them the name lab-on-a-chip.

Researchers from the Institute of Integrated Cellular Materials Sciences (iCeMS) at Kyoto University have approached microfluidic fabrication in a new direction and proposed an innovative process to fabricate devices with distinctive properties and advantages.

A description of the new process created by Dr Detao Qin of the Pureosity team at iCeMS, led by Professor Easan Sivaniah, appears in Nature Communication.

Until now, fabricating microfluidic channel devices required assembling them from multiple components, introducing potential points of failure. The Pureosity team’s process does not need such assembly. Instead, it uses photosensitive common polymers and micro-LED light sources to create self-closing, porous, high-resolution channels capable of transporting aqueous solutions and separating small biomolecules from each other, using a new photolithography technique.

The latest development from the Pureosity team builds on its organized microfibrillation (OM) technology, an imprinting process that was previously published in Nature (2019). Due to a unique feature of the OM process, microfluidic channels display structural color that is related to pore size. This correlation also relates throughput to color.

“We see great potential in this new process,” says Professor Sivaniah. “We see it as an entirely new platform for microfluidic technology, not only for personal diagnostics, but also for miniaturized sensors and detectors.”

Microfluidic devices are already used in the biomedical field in point-of-care diagnostics to analyze DNA and proteins. In the future, devices could allow patients to monitor their vital health markers by simply wearing a small patch, so healthcare providers can respond immediately to dangerous symptoms.

“It was exciting to finally use our technology for biomedical applications,” says Assistant Professor Masateru Ito, co-author of the current paper. “We are taking the first steps, but it is encouraging that relevant biomolecules such as insulin and the shell protein SARS-COV2 are compatible with our channels. I think diagnostic devices are a promising future for this technology.

Reference: Qin D, Gibbons AH, Ito MM, et al. Structural Color Enhanced Microfluidics. Nat Common. 2022;13(1):2281. doi:10.1038/s41467-022-29956-4

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