Microfluidics Technology-Based Lab-on-a-Chip Device – A Brief Overview And A Recent Breakthrough Report From Rutgers Engineers

September 22, 2015by Yamini Asthana0

A recently published report in Azonano.com dated 13th September 2015, states development of a breakthrough device that can significantly reduce the cost of sophisticated lab tests for medical disorders and diseases and glorified credit goes to engineers from Rutgers School of Engineering, New Jersey. As proposed, the medical device could reduce cost of sophisticated tests for diseases and medical disorders like HIV, Lyme disease and syphilis.

By definition, a lab-on-a-chip (LOC) is a class of device that integrates and automates multiple laboratory techniques into a system that fits on a chip up to a maximum of a few square centimeters in size. LOCs deal with the handling of extremely small fluid volumes down to less than pico liters and the devices are regarded as a compartment of Micro-electro-mechanical systems (MEMS) devices and often indicated as “Micro Total Analysis Systems” (µTAS). The foundation for most of the LOC fabrication processes is photolithography. Initially, most of the processes were carried out in silicon, as these well-developed technologies were directly derived from semiconductor fabrication. Based on increasing demands in thrust areas of application e.g. specific optical characteristics, bio- or chemical compatibility, lower production costs and faster prototyping, new processes have been developed such as glass, ceramics and metal etching, deposition and bonding, polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) processing (e.g., soft lithography), thick-film- and stereo lithography as well as fast replication methods via electroplating, injection molding and embossing. As an alternative methodology and in response to the demand for cheap and easy LOC fabrication, PDMS microfluidic devices have gained worldwide consideration as well as magnetism. The technique involves use of dissolvable scaffold (made by e.g. 3D printing) for the creation of microfluidic channels in a single block of PDMS. Additionally, the LOC field has crossed and exceeded the scientific barriers and hold unimaginable and immense applications in the so far named scientific areas in today’s as well as future scientific community.

The typical advantages of LOCs include low fluid volumes consumption (less waste, lower reagents costs and less required sample volumes for diagnostics), faster analysis and response times due to short diffusion distances, fast heating, high surface to volume ratios, small heat capacities, better process control because of a faster response of the system (e.g. thermal control for exothermic chemical reactions), compactness of the systems due to integration of much functionality and small volumes, massive parallelization due to compactness, which allows high-throughput analysis, lower fabrication costs, allowing cost-effective disposable chips, fabricated in mass production,, part quality may be verified automatically, safer platform for chemical, radioactive or biological studies because of integration of functionality, smaller fluid volumes and stored energies. The academic research organizations involved in this field are from Asia pacific, European, North American, Latin American and African countries.

The Rutgers lab-on-a chip diagnostic device measures three inches in length and an inch in width, which is almost equal to the size of a glass microscope slide. The novel device employs miniaturized channels and valves to replace “benchtop” assays – typically the tests that necessitate large samples of blood or other fluids and expensive chemicals. In a characteristic laboratory, the technicians carry out the diagnostic tests by manually mixing the sample and required reagents in trays of tubes or plastic plates with cup-like depressions, which is not the scenario in LOC device.

As per Mehdi Ghodbane, a doctorate in biomedical engineering at Rutgers and currently working in biopharmaceutical research and development at GlaxoSmithKline, “The main advantage is cost – these assays are done in labs and clinics everywhere and a great deal of research has been hindered because in many cases one is not able to extract enough fluid”. Recently, Ghodbane and six Rutgers researchers have published their results in Lab on a Chip, the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal. Furthermore, the Rutgers breakthrough requires one-tenth of the chemicals used in a conventional multiplex immunoassay, which can cost as much as $1500 and the device automates much of the skilled labor involved in performing tests.

“The results are as sensitive and accurate as the standard benchtop assay,” said Martin Yarmush, the Paul and Mary Monroe Chair and Distinguished Professor of biomedical engineering at Rutgers and also Ghodbane’s adviser.

According to the honored researchers, until now, animal research on central nervous system disorders, such as spinal cord injury and Parkinson’s disease was limited due to inefficiency in extracting sufficient cerebrospinal fluid extract to perform conventional assays. In a statement provided by Yarmush, it is expectant that researchers will be able to perform large-scale controlled studies with comparable accuracy to conventional assays with the aid of their LOC technology. Further, it is proposed that the diagnostic chip discovery could also lead to more comprehensive research on autoimmune joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis through animal studies.

The Rutgers team has made an attempt to combine several possible capabilities for the first time in the device, which they have dubbed as “ELISA-on-a-chip” (for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay). The medical device could reduce cost of sophisticated tests for diseases and medical disorders like HIV, Lyme disease and syphilis as the novel single device analyzes 32 samples at a single time and can measure widely varying concentrations of as many as six proteins in a sample. The LOC device, which employs microfluidics technology, along with making tests more affordable for patients and researchers, opens doors for new research frontiers because of its capability to perform complex analyses using 90 percent less sample fluid than needed in conventional tests. As a next successful step, the researchers are exploring the commercial potential of their technology.

Lab-on-a-chip technology has become an important part of efforts to improve global health, particularly through the development of point-of-care testing devices, especially in countries with few healthcare resources. Worldwide, the common goal of the researchers is to create microfluidic chips that will allow healthcare providers in poorly equipped clinics to perform diagnostic tests such as immunoassays, nucleic acid assays, etc with no laboratory support. Interestingly and astonishingly, there have been developments in areas of creating biological organs on a chip, like liver-on-a chip, placenta-on-a chip to address medical challenges, using human cells in a structure that resemble organization inside human body.

Yamini Asthana

Yamini Asthana

Dr. Yamini Asthana, with an academic background in biochemistry and research expertise in the fields of inorganic biochemistry and material sciences, is the technology specialist for biochemical and pharmaceutical inventions. She herself is an inventor for an US patent in the field of nanotechnology.

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