The researchers 3D printed microfluidic channels on a curved surface, providing...
The researchers 3D printed microfluidic channels on a curved surface, providing the initial step for someday printing them directly on the skin for real-time sensing of bodily fluids.
Source: McAlpine Group, University of Minnesota.

3D printed micro-scale fluid channels

Researchers at the University of Minnesota, in collaboration with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, have 3D printed unique fluid channels at the micron scale that could automate production of diagnostics, sensors, and assays used for a variety of medical tests and other applications.

The team is the first to 3D print these structures on a curved surface, providing the initial step for someday printing them directly on the skin for real-time sensing of bodily fluids.

Microfluidics is a rapidly growing field involving the control of fluid flows at the micron scale (one millionth of a meter). Microfluidics are used in a wide range of application areas including environmental sensing, medical diagnostics (such as COVID-19 and cancer), pregnancy testing, drug screening and delivery, and other biological assays.

The global microfluidics market value is currently estimated in the billions of dollars. Microfluidic devices are typically fabricated in a controlled-environment cleanroom using a complex, multi-step technique called photolithography. The fabrication process involves a silicone liquid that is flowed over a patterned surface and then cured so that the patterns form channels in the solidified silicone slab.

In this new study, the microfluidic channels are created in a single step using 3D printing. The team used a custom-built 3D printer to directly print the microfluidic channels on a surface in an open lab environment. The channels are about 300 microns in diameter—about three times the size of a human hair (one one-hundredth of an inch). The team showed that the fluid flow through the channels could be controlled, pumped, and re-directed using a series of valves.

Printing these microfluidic channels outside of a cleanroom setting could provide for robotic-based automation and portability in producing these devices. For the first time, the researchers were also able to print microfluidics directly onto a curved surface. In addition, they integrated them with electronic sensors for lab-on-a-chip sensing capabilities.

“This new effort opens up numerous future possibilities for microfluidic devices,” said Michael McAlpine, a University of Minnesota mechanical engineering professor and senior researcher on the study. “Being able to 3D print these devices without a cleanroom means that diagnostic tools could be printed by a doctor right in their office or printed remotely by soldiers in the field.”

But McAlpine said the future is even more compelling. “Being able to print on a curved surface also opens up many new possibilities and uses for the devices, including printing microfluidics directly on the skin for real-time sensing of bodily fluids and functions,” said McAlpine.

The research was published in Science Advances.

Subscribe to our newsletter

Related articles

Sensor rapidly detects multiple sepsis biomarkers

Sensor rapidly detects multiple sepsis biomarkers

The Wyss Institute's eRapid electrochemical sensor technology now enables specific and multiplexed detection of blood biomarkers at low cost.

An on-chip printed 'electronic nose'

An on-chip printed 'electronic nose'

Researchers have designed an on-chip printed 'electronic nose' that serves as a proof of concept for low-cost and sensitive devices to be used in healthcare.

Rapid POCT for opioids in the bloodstream

Rapid POCT for opioids in the bloodstream

Point-of-care electrochemical sensors using revolutionary nanocarbon technology can rapidly test for opioid concentrations in the bloodstream.

COVID-19 speeds up microfluidics development

COVID-19 speeds up microfluidics development

With soaring demand for point-of-care testing (POCT), microfluidics has been a pivotal resource as COVID-19 swept across the world.

Microfluidic chip simplifies COVID-19 testing

Microfluidic chip simplifies COVID-19 testing

COVID-19 can be diagnosed in 55 minutes or less with the help of programmed magnetic nanobeads and a diagnostic tool that plugs into an off-the-shelf cellphone.

Sustainable solution for wearable patches

Sustainable solution for wearable patches

Covestro has developed a concept for wearable smart patches in cooperation with its partner accensors.

Biodegradable displays for sustainable sensors

Biodegradable displays for sustainable sensors

Scientists have developed biodegradable displays that due to their flexibility and adhesion can be worn directly on the hand.

Microneedles: Nano-sized, huge impact

Microneedles: Nano-sized, huge impact

By downscaling needles tool to micrometer-size, researchers open even more areas of application for them, while bypassing some of the most important issues.

How to make the invisible visible

How to make the invisible visible

Scientists have discovered a new way to analyse microscopic cells, tissues and other transparent specimens, through the improvement of an almost 100-year-old imaging technique.

Popular articles

Photo

3D printed ultra-low-cost hearing aid

Using a device that could be built with a dollar's worth of open-source parts and a 3D-printed case, researchers want to help the hundreds of millions of older people worldwide who can't afford existing hearing aids to address their age-related hearing loss.