Updated: Dec 13, 2021
Microfluidics and miniaturization of biological operations have given rise to the development of lab-on-a-chip devices. They are compact and highly parallelizable. Much greater throughput is achieved with low volume samples and faster response times. . The controlled nature of their internal environment and reduced handling prevents aspects of human error. This also allows them to be used outside laboratory settings for “point-of-care” testing. They can be highly specialized to mimic certain environments and functions such as a human lung or any other organ. Organ-on-chip devices are miniaturized models of biological systems used to study biochemical and biomechanical processes. Most interestingly, they are fabricated using a variety of methods ranging from simple and small-scale to advanced mass production.
Lab-on-a-chip devices were originally made with silicon as they are based on microfabrication of silicon computer chips however this material is becoming less commonplace due to its lack of transparency, greater electrical conductivity, and higher cost. Transparency of the material is important for visualization and electrical conductivity prevents applications that require insulation such as electrophoresis. Other materials like PDMS (polydimethylsiloxane), thermoplastic polymers, glass, and even paper are commonly used instead. PDMS is popular for prototyping and smaller scale applications as it is cheap and easy to fabricate by casting but not compatible with higher throughput techniques. Thermoplastic polymers and glass require more advanced microfabrication but are also more chemically inert. Lastly, paper microfluidics have great potential as they are very inexpensive, and fabrication can be as simple as wax printing.
As fabrication methods are discovered and become accessible, more laboratories will be able to benefit from this kind of technology. 3D-printers are nearly household items at this point and laboratories have been using them to model custom equipment for years. They are now precise enough to fabricate the microchannels necessary for lab-on-a-chip applications. This kind of accessibility allows laboratories worldwide to explore their objectives more efficiently and will have a vast impact on the collective quality and quantity of productive research in the future.
A few scholarly articles that may be of interest include:
Azizipour, Neda et al. “Evolution of Biochip Technology: A Review from Lab-on-a-Chip to Organ-on-a-Chip.” Micromachines vol. 11,6 599. 18 Jun. 2020, doi:10.3390/mi11060599
Arshavsky-Graham, Sofia, and Ester Segal. “Lab-on-a-Chip Devices for Point-of-Care Medical Diagnostics,” 1–19. Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer Berlin Heidelberg, n.d. https://doi.org/10.1007/10_2020_127.
Whitesides, George M. “The Origins and the Future of Microfluidics.” Nature 442, no. 7101 (July 1, 2006): 368–73. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05058.
Written by: Mathew Loren