case study

Negligible-Cost Microfluidic Prototypes

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100-micron channel scaffolds relative to a 20p coin

100-micron channel scaffolds relative to a 20p coin

Dr Robert Hughes and Harry Felton from The University of Bristol use commercially available Ultimaker 3D Printers to develop negligible-cost microfluidic prototypes. Allowing anyone in the world to experiment with Lab-on-a-chip technology, no matter their financial resources.

Challenge

Lab-on-a-chip (LOC) technology is widely regarded as the answer to a variety of global healthcare challenges.  While many critical challenges are faced by clinicians and researchers in resource-limited parts of the world, the so-called LOC “solutions” are predominantly devised and developed by well-funded labs in the developed world using equipment, expertise and resources inaccessible to most. It is for this reason that the uptake of many potential LOC solutions is often limited, due to expense or a failure to account for local practical complications.


Our aim is to put LOC fabrication technology into the hands of researchers & clinicians most familiar with these challenges, by democratising the process & resources required for fabrication and prototyping.  This will allow anyone in the world to experiment with LOC technology, no matter their financial resources. 


Micofluidics is the fundamental technology underpinning LOC technology. As such, we have tried to produce reliable, low-cost microfludic fabrication technology that could be used by anyone in the world with limited resources available to them, in order to empower researchers, clinicians and students to find unique solutions to these global challenges.


Solution

Using only commercially available FDM printers (Ultimakers from CREATE Education) and accessories, we have developed a novel 3D-printed, interconnecting scaffold design, simple fabrication method, and open-access resources that can be used to quickly produce reliable microfluidic channels at a nearly negligible expense and with no specialist equipment or resources.



Working interconnected microfluidic chip.

 


Results

We were able to demonstrate that this technique could be used to reliably produce working microfluidic devices and demonstrated that the printing resolution could be pushed to a limit of 100 microns using standard FDM printing of thermoplastics.


Connector and module designs.

 



100-micron channel scaffolds relative to a 20p coin.

 



Benefits

Extreme cost-saving, speed and reliability of microfluidic fabrication.  The low-cost and low-resource approach makes it suitable not just for research but also for education.  This work could be revolutionary in helping doctors and medical researchers to create the tests they need to for their patients.


"This project was not possible without the Ultimaker thermo-plastic printer and the high standard of printing allowed us to achieve very high resolution. "  

 - Dr Robert Hughes, University of Bristol 


The research article published in the Public Library of Science is available to read here.



By using 3D printing technologies, CREATE Education Hub, The University of Bristol, is able to fabricate microfluidic prototypes quickly and affordably.  Are you interested to find out what additive manufacturing can do for your education or research establishment? Get in touch with our CREATE Education specialists today.

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