McGill University researchers have 3D printed functional microfluidic chips in just 30 minutes. These chips can potentially be used as accessible, cost-effective point-of-care diagnostic testing devices. These miniature labs or labs-on-a-chip require no external power source because they function on a simple, fundamental principle: Capillary action.
Published in Advanced Materials, the study details the process of developing and 3D printing capillaric circuits (CCs) on demand, using poly(ethylene glycol diacrylate) with a molecular weight of 250 (PEGDA-250) ink, a popular hydrophilic material used in 3D printing microfluidic chips.
The researchers also 3D-printed capillaric stop and trigger valves (SVs and TVs) that could hold liquids/samples for a long time without leakage or cross-contamination, a feature conventional microfluidics lacked. The possibility of printing CCs with embedded valves could help generate robust microfluidic chips that provide reliable diagnoses.
Realizing at-home diagnostics
3D printing functional and customizable CC chips on demand brings at-home screening and diagnostics one step closer to reality. Though the proof-of-concept assay in the study demonstrated the compatibility, efficacy, and reliability of the novel capillaric technology, some challenges remain—such as regulatory approvals, securing necessary test materials, and controlling the quality of the reagents and samples used.
The team is actively working to make their technology more accessible, adapting it for use with mainstream, affordable 3D printers and bringing the material costs to less than USD$ 1 per chip.
“This advancement has the capacity to empower individuals, researchers, and industries to explore new possibilities and applications in a more cost-effective and user-friendly manner,” said David Juncker, PhD, professor, chair of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at McGill University, and senior author on the study, in a press release. “This innovation also holds the potential to eventually empower health professionals with the ability to rapidly create tailored solutions for specific needs right at the point of care.”