A new, ubiquitous and simple-to-use technology in the field of microfluidics – scientific experimentation dealing with small and precise amounts of liquids – may soon be available to researchers thanks to the work of UC Davis scientists.
Tingrui Pan, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, and Arnold Chen, graduate student at UC Davis, are developing a device called the “Fit-to-Flow system.” The device allows on-the-go medical testing.
“It will be able to connect to a readable system. You’ll be able to test for 10 different diseases from just one drop of blood, just by swapping out a chip,” Pan said.
The researchers based their invention on a simple plug-in-and-play system.
“It’s similar to how you store data now on a USB device; with our device you can just use different chips,” Pan said.
The device is called Fit-to-Flow. It’s a flat, clear slide about half the size of a typical USB drive. Red and blue lines look like a circuit board criss-crossing the surface. The lines are really tiny channels for confining liquids like blood or water samples
The device allows researchers to swap out chips, rather than connectors on microfluidics experiments. By switching out the chips instead of connectors, the device will eliminate much of the complexities currently present in microfluidics testing.
“One of the toughest challenges with microfluidics at the moment is making connectors. By eliminating this step it makes microfluidics easy for so many people,” Pan said.
The chips which can be changed out depending on what testing is being done, makes the device versatile enough that it can even be used with phones.
“It will be integrated in smartphones in such a way that will allow researchers to conduct tests with analytical microscopes available on smartphone applications today,” Pan said.
He said that this integration with smartphones could lead to cell phone-based diagnoses.
Chen said that the system was designed with cost efficiency in mind.
“The materials are all disposable, which means they are cheap,” Chen said.
He said that the device will provide researchers not just with convenience and medical testing on the go, but it also may allow for more advanced techniques.
“We can improve the seal [on the liquid channels] to help achieve much higher fluidic pressure than is currently sustainable,” Chen said.
Chen said that he believes this device can be really helpful to the biological and chemical fields. He said that the device allows for the hospital setting, but on the go.
Chen and Pan believe that microfluidics research will be greatly benefited by Fit-to-Flow.
“Microfluidics, and this technology, will be very important in this next decade,” Pan said.
According to the Stanford Microfluidics Laboratory, microfluidics serves as a pathway to various new methods of scientific research.
The Stanford laboratory is working to develop microfluidics devices made with cost-saving materials. These new devices may allow for less waste of fluids like blood in the testing process.
These reasons, along with many others, may prove microfluidics to be the wave of the future in biological and chemical research, especially with devices like the Fit-to-Flow reaching the market.
The Fit-to-Flow, was released as a prototype in early 2010, and may advance to a commercial state within the next few years.
For more information, go to mems.bme.ucdavis.edu/
ERIC C. LIPSKY can be reached at email@example.com.