Professors 3D-print first truly microfluidic "lab on a chip" device

Researchers at BYU are the first to 3D-print a viable microfluidic device small enough to be effective at a scale much less than 100 micrometers. Microfluidic devices are tiny chips that can sort out disease biomarkers, cells and other small structures in samples like blood by using microscopic channels incorporated into the devices. The accomplishment, which is a major breakthrough toward mass-producing the medical diagnostic devices cheaply, is detailed in the latest issue of the academic journal Lab on a Chip. Researchers Greg Nordin, a BYU electrical engineering professor, and Adam Woolley, a BYU chemistry professor, say the key to their innovation was two-fold: Building their own 3D printer to print at a much higher resolution; Using a new, specifically designed, low-cost, custom resin. “Others have 3D-printed fluidic channels, but they haven’t been able to make them small enough for microfluidics,” Nordin said. “So we decided to make our own 3D printer and research a resin that could do it.” Their work has produced labs on a chip with flow channel cross sections as small as 18 micrometers by 20 micrometers. Previous efforts to 3D-print microfluidic devices have failed to achieve success smaller than 100 micrometers. The researchers’ 3D printer uses a 385 nm LED, which dramatically increases the available selection of UV absorbers for resin formulation compared to 3D printers with 405 nm LEDs. Nordin said the advantages of 3D printing for microfluidic device fabrication are already well-known and that their method, digital light processing stereolithography (DLP-SLA), is an especially promising lower-cost approach. DLP-SLA uses a micromirror array chip, like those in most consumer projectors, to dynamically create the optical pattern for each layer during layer-by-layer printing of a device.”