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Microchannel particles altered to improve chip portability

13 Nov 2013

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A novel technique that involves modifying the symmetry of particles to make them flow directly to the centre of the microfluidic channel engraved in tiny chips in the shortest possible time could lead to the development of more efficient and portable lab-on-a-chip diagnostic devices such as bioassays. Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who designed the approach employed hydrodynamic principles to alter the particles' shapes, making them flow and align without the application of external forces. The study was led by Patrick Doyle, Burak Eral and William Uspal and published in the journal Nature Communications. The National Science Foundation, Novartis, and the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies provided financial support for the study.

Most lab-on-a-chip devices consisting of microfluidic channels have limited portability because they currently require a great deal of extra instrumentation attached to the chip. Much of that extra instrumentation is needed to keep the particles flowing single file through the centre of the channel, where they can be analysed. This can be done by applying a magnetic or electric field, or by flowing two streams of liquid along the outer edges of the channel, forcing the particles to stay in the centre.

Using results from previous research, the MIT team found that they could manipulate hydrodynamic interactions in particles confined in a narrow channel by altering the particles' symmetry. Each of their particles is shaped like a dumbbell, but with a different-size disc at each end. The right amount of asymmetry enables a particle to move quickly and directly to the centerline, unlike a slightly asymmetrical particle that tends to bounce between the wall and the centre before achieving a straight path, or a very asymmetrical particle that will very slowly approach the centre without crossing it.

The novel particles could make it more feasible to design lab-on-a-chip devices, which hold potential as portable diagnostic devices for cancer and other diseases. "Self-steering particles could lead to simplified flow scanners for point-of-care devices, and also provide a new toolkit from which one can develop other novel bioassays," senior author Patrick Doyle said.

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