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7 Microfluidic Highlights of 2017

7 Microfluidic Highlights of 2017  content piece image

Currently worth US$2.5 billion, the microfluidic device market is estimated to reach US$5.8 billion by 2022 (2017 edition - Yole Développement). Fuelling this growth are a range of advances in microfluidic technologies and microfabrication methods. In this list, we take a look at 7 of the promising developments from the past year.

1. Microfluidic Point-of-Care Sepsis Chip

Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that develops in response to an infection in the body. Speed
of commencing treatment is critical for sepsis patients, but traditional diagnosis using systemic
inflammatory response syndrome criteria can be highly non-specific and take a number of days.

Using just 10 microliters of a blood sample, the sepsis chip can quantify total white blood cell counts and CD64 expression levels on neutrophils in around 30 minutes, and offers a promising point-of-care option for rapidly monitoring a patient’s immune response to sepsis treatment.

2. 3D Printing Transparent Glass

Glass has a number of qualities that make it an attractive material for microfluidics, including its optical transparency, chemical resistance, and mechanical properties. However, difficulties in the production and etching of complex microfluidic geometries can mean it is often overlooked.

Researchers from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have developed a method of 3D printing which can create transparent glass structures not previously possible. Unlike other methods, the
technique uses silica inks formed from concentrated suspensions of glass particles, overcoming the challenges associated with printing molten glass. As part of their work, the team 3D printed a simple microfluidic network.

3. Paper Pumps

Paper pumps only 125 microns thick have been developed by researchers from North Carolina State University, which can pull liquid into microfluidic devices using capillary action. The rate and duration of this flow can be controlled by changing the shape of the paper, either by cutting or stacking the pumps.

The low cost (less than a dime), light weight, and small size make the pumps well suited for use in portable microfluidic devices, and could help expand the reach of diagnostic tools.

4. DroNc-Seq

In efforts to improve the adoption of the single-nucleus RNA sequencing method, sNuc-Seq, by
increasing throughput, researchers from the Broad Institute combined the technique with microfluidics to create DroNc-Seq. The new scaled-up method enables rapid single-cell expression profiling in complex tissues such as the brain.

5. Virus Sorting

Fluorescence-activated cell sorting (FACS) is a useful technique for studying large viruses such as
Ebola, but is not sensitive enough to study small viruses with few surface proteins, such as HIV.

A team of researchers from EMBL has developed a new system which enables rapid sorting of HIV viruses, based on microfluidics. The viruses are enclosed individually in droplets of liquid, and are sorted according to whether their surface proteins are recognised by antibodies attached to alkaline phosphatase. An added advantage of this method compared to typical FACS is that there is no production of potentially hazardous airborne droplets.

6. NanoRobo

A team of researchers from North Carolina State University have developed NanoRobo, an automated microfluidic technology which enables the collection of 100 times more spectrographic information per day than previously possible. The system collects both fluorescent and absorption data, and enabled the researchers to identify the effect that mixing speed has on the emission wavelength of quantum dots.

7. Lung cancer-on-a-chip

Organs-on-chips are promising tools for drug discovery and disease research, bridging the gap
between static cell culture and animal models. By recapitulating processes such as human cancer growth and invasion, they can provide a more physiologically relevant model.

Researchers from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have harnessed this
technology to create two Lung Cancer Chips, the Airway Cancer Chip and the Alveolar Cancer
Chip. The chips provide an effective model of non-small-cell lung cancer (NCSLC) and enabled the
researchers to uncover previously undiscovered roles of breathing motions in cancer cell growth,
invasion and response to drugs.

This is just a small selection of the range of microfluidic developments in 2017. If there are any others that you think we should have included, please get in touch, we’d love to hear about them.