A research team from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities has developed a new microfluidic technology for diagnosing diseases that utilizes a minimal number of components and can be powered wirelessly via a smartphone. The innovation opens the way for faster and more cost-effective at-home medical testing.
The research paper is published in Natural Communications, a peer-reviewed, open-access, scientific journal, which was published by Nature Research. Currently, researchers are working to commercialize the technology.
Microfluidics involves the use and manipulation of liquids at a very small scale. One of the most popular areas in the field is developing lab-on-a-chip technology, or the ability to develop devices that can detect diseases from a very small biological sample, such as blood or urine.
For one, scientists have already developed portable devices for diagnosing some conditionsrapid COVID-19 antibody tests. However, a major obstacle to achieving advanced diagnostic chips that might, for example, identify the specific strain of COVID-19 or measure biomarkers, is the fact that they need so many moving parts.
Chips like these would require materials to seal the liquid inside, pumps and tubing to manipulate the liquid, and wires to activate those pumpsall materials that are difficult to scale down to the micro level. Researchers at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities were able to create a microfluidic device that would be able to operate without all of those bulky components.
Scientists have had great success in assessing electronic devices scaling, but the ability to handle liquid samples hasn''t kept up, according to Sang-Hyun Oh, a professor at the Minnesota Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and senior author of the study. It''s not an exaggeration that a state-of-the-art, microfluidic lab-on-chip system is extremely labor intensive to put together. We decided: can we just rid ourselves of cover material, wires, and pumps altogether and
Many lab-on-a-chip technologies work by moving liquid droplets across a microchip to detect the virus pathogens or bacteria inside the sample. The University of Minnesota researchers solution was inspired by a particular real-world phenomenon with which wine drinkers will be familiarthe legs or long droplets due to surface tension caused by alcohol evaporation.
The researchers used an Ohs lab approach in the early 2010s to identify tiny electrodes close together on a 2 cm by 2 cm chip, which produces powerful electric fields that pull droplets across the chip and form a similar leg of liquid to detect molecules inside.
Because electrodes are so close together (with only 10 nanometers of space between), the result electric field is so strong that the chip only requires less than a volt of electricity to function. This incredibly low voltage required allowed the researchers to activate the diagnostic chip via near-field communication signals from a smartphone, the same technique used for contactless payment in stores.
This is the first time that researchers have been able to use a smartphone to wirelessly activate narrow channels without microfluidic structures, opening the way for more convenient and cheap home diagnostic devices.
During this epidemic, Christopher Ertsgaard, a leading author of the study and a recent CSE alumnus, believes everybody has realized the importance of at-home, rapid, point-of-care diagnostics. Yet, we need more advanced techniques than scaling and high-density manufacturing. These capabilities are available at an affordable rate.
GRIP Molecular Technologies, a Minnesota startup company that manufactures at-home diagnostic devices, is working together to commercialize the microchip platform. The chip is designed to have broad applications for detecting viruses, pathogens, bacteria, and other biomarkers in liquid samples.
According to Bruce Batten, the founder and president of GRIP Molecular Technologies, low voltage fluid movement (FLV) allows us to meet both of these requirements. GRIP has had the pleasure to collaborate with the University of Minnesota on the development of our technology platform. It''s critical to develop a range of innovative, transformational products.