The Emergence of Lab-on-a-Chip Technology in Research

What is Lab-on-a-Chip (LOC) Technology?

A Lab-on-a-chip (LOC) is a miniaturized device that integrates microfluidics and nanotechnology to carry out complex biochemical analyses, such as PCR, microarrays, and protein separation.

History

The history of microfluidics dates back to the 1950s, when manipulation of liquid handling became a priority for the development of microchannel capillary systems.2 In the past two decades, the emergence of chip technology has revolutionized the life science field, providing an opportunity to study complex systems in 3D with improved resemblance to living systems.

Enhanced sensitivity, small sample size, and broad applicability has made LOC technology an attractive alternative to conventional, bulky molecular techniques.2,6

What are the Advantages of Lab-on-a-Chip Technology?

There are many benefits to chip-based technology. Small sample size requirements and high control of fluid interactions allow for more extensive use, efficient reactions, and rapid synthesis.

The integration of PCR on a chip has been shown to accelerate DNA amplification by more than ten times that of conventional thermocyclers, while sample sizes can be as small as just a single cell or molecule. 1,7

The miniaturization of electronics and advances in photolithography have enabled devices to accommodate parallel high-throughput testing, speeding up research and development. These advantages lead to less reagent use and therefore lower costs and chemical waste.2

Currently, devices can be designed with extreme precision enabling reliable reproducibility at a fraction of the power consumption needed for older techniques.

What Challenges do Chip Designers face?

The main challenge to development of chip technology is the design of a durable microenvironment, which is both functional and cost-effective. Portable chips leave little room for waste and must efficiently encapsulate functionality, integrating biosensors, valves, pumps, input, output, and electrical connections into a very small space.

Calibration is also a significant obstacle as biochemical reactions are scaled down sometimes resulting in a high signal to noise ratio.2 Devices must also be able to withstand continual fluctuations in temperature and chemical composition to simulate enzymatic reactions quickly and reliably.2

If many samples are to be analyzed on one chip, there is the added challenge of residual cross-contamination of samples.

Innovation in materials and microfabrication techniques have improved a plethora of LOC devices so that they meet these challenges.3,7

What Role do Syringe Pumps Play in Lab-on-a-Chip Technology?

Syringe pump systems support microfluidic chips and are used extensively with LOC devices to control fluid delivery.  With programmable step-rate functionality, syringe pumps infuse and withdraw solutions at extremely high precision with a range of flow rates. Coated with polypropylene, syringe pump systems are resistant to repeated chemical exposure and temperature fluctuation. Customized flow profiles allow for improved microsystem functionality enhancing LOC capabilities. Chemyx syringe pumps offer the added benefit of a dual pump design enabling independent parallel testing.5

Conclusion

Despite design challenges, it is likely that the development of LOC devices will continue to grow as advances in materials and technology enable innovation. The integration of smart phone functionality, novel 3D printing methods, and laser etching fabrication are just a few recent developments in chip-based technology.4,6

 

References

  1. Bruijns B, van Asten A, Tiggelaar R, Gardeniers H. Microfluidic Devices for Forensic DNA Analysis: A Review. Caputo D, ed. Biosensors. 2016;6(3):41. doi:10.3390/bios6030041.
  2. Castillo-León J. (2015) Microfluidics and Lab-on-a-Chip Devices: History and Challenges (1-14). Springer, Cham.
  3. Conde, J., Madaboosi, N., Soares R., Fernandes J., Novo, P., Moulas G., and Chu, V. (2016). Lab on a Chip Systems for Integrated Analysis. Essays in Biochemistry, 60, 121–131.
  4. Li B., Li L., Guan A., Dong Q., Ruan K., Hu R., Li Z. (2014) A smartphone controlled handheld microfluidic liquid handling system. Lab Chip, 14(20):4085-92.
  5. Microfluidic Dosing Solutions. (2017) Retrieved from https://www.chemyx.com/applications/microfluidics/
  6. Novel 3D Printing Technique Opens Door to Wide Range of Research and Clinical Applications. (2017) Retrieved from http://www.genengnews.com/gen-news-highlights/novel-3d-printing-technique-opens-door-to-wide-range-of-research-and-clinical-applications/81254904
  7. Zhang Y., Jiang, H. (2016). A review on continuous-flow microfluidic PCR in droplets: Advances, challenges and future. Analytica Chimica Acta, 914, 7-16.

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