Microfluidics is the study of technologies that enable the solution of small volumes of fluids based on the application of tiny, safe channels (typically tens to hundreds of microns) of fine gauge. Although still in the developmental stage, microfluidics is fast becoming a pioneering technology with applications in a wide range of industries, from molecular biology and organic chemistry to information content technology and electro-optics.
As researchers realise the power of microfluidics, more and more industries are already using it, saving money and time in the laboratory. Despite the obvious benefits of microfluidics, it is not yet commonly used, most likely due to the challenges of commercialising the technology.
Microfluidics and lithography technology
Microfluidic systems software was designed using a simple technology called photolithography, which was first used in the production of semiconductor materials. Photolithography is the entire process used to migrate the geometry present on the mask to a suitable surface layer of the substrate. It uses a number of unique polymers that reflect light at specific wavelengths to create the desired geometry on the substrate sheet.
Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) polymers, for example, have long replaced silicon and laminated glass and are commonly used in the manufacture of microfluidic devices for photolithography, as fully transparent, ductile polymers that can pass through co2 and carbon dioxide and can therefore be used to accommodate cells. Once the moulds have been converted, several small devices can be manufactured and they can be used for research and diagnostics.
Advantages of the microfluidic system software – Small number of samples and reagents in the laboratory – Reduces the use of expensive reagents and thus controls costs – High pixel count and sensitivity for molecular structure examination and isolation – Reduces the need for profiling and detection systems compared to large and medium sized equipment in the laboratory Reduced footprint of analysis and detection systems – Reduced analysis time – Laminar or smooth fluid flow in fine safety channels Better monitoring of flow rates by means of flow or smooth fluid flow – Better manipulation of the main test parameters and sample concentration values at external economic limits
Use of microfluidics – Software for microfluidic systems is commonly used for capillary electrophoresis, isoelectric focusing, immunoassays, flow cytometry, sample injection in mass spectrometry, PCR amplification, DNA profiling, cell isolation and practical manipulation and cell patterning processes. -The main applications of microfluidics are the study of antimicrobial resistant bacteria, the transport of gold nanoparticles in blood and the kinetic modeling of chemical changes. -The main uses of microfluidics for diagnostic purposes include cancer and pathogenic bacteria testing. -Microfluidic devices are used to accurately measure the thermal diffusion coefficients of molecular structures, fluid viscosity, pH and organic chemical fusion indices. -In the pharmaceutical industry, microfluidic systems software has a number of key applications in biomedical manufacturing, for example, in the detection and enhancement of protein drugs and their measurement involving human cells.
The future of microfluidics
The trend towards autonomous innovative technologies for designing solutions and manufacturing microfluidic system software is a necessity of the times and can drive the commercialisation of microfluidic devices.
DolomiteMicrofluidics has recently released its own innovative 3D fluid copier called FluidicFactory, the first commercial 3D printer for fluid tight machineries such as integrated ic, RF connectors, gate valves, fluid inlet stubs and medical devices. Similarly, to better overcome the challenges of fluid volume control in today’s microfluidic automation systems, microfluidic systems manufacturer Fluigent has designed the MFCS™ range of microfluidic systems software based on its patented FASTAB™ technology, which provides working pressure-driven flow monitoring to accomplish single-pulse-free mobility and obtain high responsiveness. Compatible polymers such as PDMS will enable microfluidic devices to be inserted into the body for biomedical engineering dissection in the future. Microfluidics has the potential to perform single-cell or single-molecule structural dissection, which would be beneficial for fundamental research in cells and biology. Several laboratories around the world have developed microfluidic-specific tools for proteomics, molecular biology and metabolomics. Although microfluidics is still in its developmental stages, it offers a disruptive future for industries such as blood products. Expect a lot of research to be done to apply this technology to more general industries.