The life sciences, medicine, and diagnostics are currently undergoing a similar development as electronics did 60 years ago. The big trends are miniaturization and functional integration. The key enabling technology for these trends is microfluidics, also called Lab-on-a-Chip or, from its historical roots in analytical chemistry, µTAS (miniaturized total analysis systems [1]). Microfluidics is the science and technology of manipulating fluids in functional components with structures in the range from several micrometers up to millimeters. (after G. Whitesides [2]).

Nowadays, almost no product development in the life sciences or diagnostics (especially molecular diagnostics) takes place, which does not in one form or the other involve elements with microfluidic functionality. The physical principle or scaling law, which presents the foundation of this development, is Fick’s law of diffusion [3], which can be read as:

t = l2/D,

with t the diffusion time (i.e. the time two molecules need to meet each other by random motion), D the diffusion coefficient and l the distance between these molecules (or typical length scale). If l now is reduced (e.g. by a factor of 10) due to the miniaturization of the structure in which these molecules reside, the diffusion time is reduced by a factor of 100! At the same time, also due to this reduction in scale, many more reaction sites can be generated per unit area, which leads to an additional upscaling in the possible information density [4].

In addition to these performance advantages, miniaturization allows for a reduction in required sample and reagent volumes, which is important, e.g. when there is only very little sample available (e.g. in neonatal diagnostics or the analysis of proteins), or the required reagents for the assay are very expensive. At the same time, also the waste volume will be reduced accordingly. For the commercial developments however, the most important aspect of this miniaturization is the possibility to integrate complex workflows (e.g. from molecular biology) into a single device [5], which allows for a hands-free sample-in result-out operation. The ability to create such integrated microfluidic cartridges and to manufacture them in high volumes has only recently been reached, which explains why the commercialization of this technology has been picking up speed for a few years. microfluidic ChipShop offers you the tools and the infrastructure to fully utilize the advantages of the microfluidics technology described above for your product development.

Literature:

[1] Manz A., Graber N., Widmer H.M., Miniaturized total chemical analysis systems: a novel concept for chemical sensing. Sens. Actuators B 1, 244-248, 1990

[2] Whitesides, G., The origins and the future of microfluidics, Nature, 442, 368-373, 2006

[3] Fick, A., Ueber Diffusion, Ann. Phys. 170(1), 59-86, 1855

[4] Janasek, D., Franzke, J., Manz, A., Scaling and the design of miniaturized chemical-analysis systems, Nature, 442, 374-380, 2006

[5] Becker, H., Gärtner, C., Microfluidics-Enabled Diagnostic Systems: Markets, Challenges, and Examples, in: Microchip Diagnostics: Methods and Protocols, 3-21, Springer, 2017