Lab on a Chip

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Lab on a Chip is a form of micro-analytic processing referred to as microfluidics - a form of engineered fluid management on a micro scale which promises to improve diagnostics and research. These techniques are also referred to as "miniaturized total analytic systems" or µTAS. These techniques were first developed by the semi-conductor industry and later expanded by the micro-electromechanical systems field. [1]

Microfluidic assays may ultimately end with a visual end-point. The first visual assays were chemotactic studies, monitoring the migration of macrophages toward a chemoattractant. These were developed by Stephen Boyden and the contraption developed for the analysis was referred to as the Boyden chamber[2] or the Transwell Assay.[1] Further enhancements led to the development of the Zigmond Chamber - a microfluidic device[3], the Dunn Chamber[4] and the Insall Chamber.[5]

The physical chip devices have been constructed from an array of materials including silicone and glass in "clean room" environments resulting in set of micro-channels etched or molded into a material.[6] Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) is currently the material du jour due to a number of compelling factors - it's cheap, it's easy to set-up, it's hydrophillic surfaces are easily "tuned", it's bonding capabilities to dissimilar materials may be achieved reversibly or irreversibly, and lastly it's elasticity, which is important for "valving" and "actuation".[1] While PDMS enjoys many benefits, it has it's drawbacks - including adsorption of solute, leaching of uncrosslinked oligomers, and microevaporation of fluid due the porosity of the matrix.[1] Other materials such as thermoplastics, paper, and wax have situation specific use cases.[1]



The advantages of Lab on a Chip microfluidic processing are: to reduce the sample volume substantially; to reduce the cost of reagents and maximize information gleaned from precious samples; to provide gains in scalability for screening applications and batch sample processing analogous to multi-well plates; and to provide the investigator with substantially more control and predictability of the spatio-temporal dynamics of the cell microenvironment.[1]

These devices are capable of performing qualitative and quantitative analyses without the need for equipment with a large footprint. More specifically, with further development, microfluidics holds the promise of providing the capability to perform analyses in context-specific settings without the need for large sample volumes nor the wait for determination. Lab on a Chip, as a platform, could become a major component in the further development of wearable devices, coupled to devices for connectivity, capable of communicating with personal health records or in an institutional setting, with electronic healthcare records.



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Sackmann EK, Fulton AL, Beebe DJ. The present and future role of microfluidics in biomedical research. Nature. 2014 Mar 13;507(7491):181–9.
  2. Boyden S. The chemotactic effect of mixtures of antibody and antigen on polymorphonuclear leucocytes. The Journal of experimental medicine. 1962;115(3):453–66.
  3. Zigmond S.H. (1977). "Ability of polymorphonuclear leukocytes to orient in gradients of chemotactic factors". J. of Cell Biology 75 (2): 606–616.
  4. Zicha D., Dunn G.A., Brown A.F. (1991). "A new direct-viewing chemotaxis chamber.". J Cell Sci 99: 769–75.
  5. 1. Muinonen-Martin AJ, Knecht DA, Veltman DM, Thomason PA, Kalna G, Insall RH. Measuring chemotaxis using direct visualization microscope chambers. Methods Mol Biol. 2013;1046:307–21.
  6. Microfluidics and microfluidic devices: a review | Elveflow microfluidic instruments [Internet]. [cited 2014 Oct 27]. Available from: