Innovations in microfluidic modelling of the human body have enabled medical researchers to study pathology to a level of accuracy and efficiency that was previously unattainable.
These ‘disease-on-chip’ models build on previous advances in organ-on-chip technology, creating devices that can model disease processes specific to each modelled organ. Notable disease-on-chip innovations include Kambez Benam and colleagues’ model of human lung inflammation, and the device mimicking arterial thrombosis created by Pedro Costa and collaborators at the Universities of Twente and Utrecht. The key advantage of disease-on-chip technology over conventional disease models is that it facilitates assays that are both physiologically relevant and high-throughput.
One particular area in which such advantages promise to have enduring and significant impact is cancer biology, thanks to pioneering work done in modelling cancerous disease processes. Metastasis-on-chip is one such advance. (more…)
Over the last two years, I have seen an increased interest in using simulation software to better understand microfluidics processes. The two most common and important reasons for considering integration of simulation software into microfluidics processes have been to reduce device cost and improve quality control.
Microfluidics processes are truly multiphysics in nature, requiring a robust simulation tool to accurately capture all of the physics involved. Certain physics like surface tension become more prominent at the micro scales at which microfluidics processes work. Coupled to surface tension are other physics in play, such as electro-osmosis, electro-kinetics and visco-elasticity. In short, microfluidic simulations can be very complex. An accurate simulation tool can provide insights to the designer about the microfluidic device and help him develop a more efficient and better design. One such example is analyzing an acoustophoretic particle focusing device that removes a variety of objects from solutions in a microfluidic channel. The process is applicable to malignant cell removal, nanoparticle separation, and sequestration of suspended liquids. Another application is to understand the dynamics that govern the formation of lenses using fluids (optofluidics) in microfluidic channels. Optofluidics combines elements of optics and microfluidics and finds applications in biosensors, displays, lab-on-chip devices, molecular imaging and lenses.
Drug discovery is a lengthy and costly endeavor. In fact, the cost of drug development has been rising year after year as result of a lack of physiological models that can accurately predict the effect of a drug in humans. Therefore, risky drugs may enter human clinical trials while promising drugs might be eliminated at early stages; both scenarios lead to a sizable financial loss. Organ-on-a-chip devices have emerged to combat this, and are poised to fill this gap where the conventional cell-based assays and animal testing fail1,2. These technologies build on sophisticated microfluidic systems to culture human cells in a precisely controlled microenvironment to coordinate cells to work together and to recapitulate organ-level function that would otherwise be difficult to mimic in a traditional monolayer culture environment. The ultimate goal is to accurately model human physiology for precision drug testing.
Everyday clients share their microfluidic designs or products with contract manufacturing companies. Interestingly the designs can be classified to two types, let’s call them Type A or B, based on whether they exploit micron-size specific behavior of fluids or not. These small scale phenomena include surface tension, electrical, magnetic or shear force, etc… which may behave differently in a 30 micron dia. channel compared to a 1mm dia. channel for similar designs.
Type A devices exploit the micron scale behavior to achieve a novel function. A Type A product offers something new that probably is not feasible if the design is scaled 10 times larger. Type A designs are therefore innovative or perhaps disruptive. On the other hand, Type B devices offer to miniaturize, integrate or automate existing fluidic products or processes. The value proposition for type B products may include “cheaper”, “faster” or “more accurate” words.