What is microfluidics?
Microfluidics can refer to either the science of or the technology involved in moving tiny amounts of fluids through very narrow channels (from just tens to hundreds of micrometers wide).
Across all kinds of fields – from pharmaceuticals to food sciences – microfluidic devices are extremely useful not only for transporting but also for analyzing these fluids. The movement of the liquid through the device can be either passive (thanks to, for example, capillary pressure or charged surfaces driving a charged liquid) or active (through the use of mechanical pumps).
The benefits of microfluidic technology
Microfluidics has myriad uses in today’s world: it can be found in medical applications (including the now-familiar COVID-19 self-test), in research (for example, in flow cytometry and cell sorting), or in more generic measurements and detection (such as simple pH measurement strips). The benefits are as diverse as the applications, but size is usually a key factor.
In general, microfluidics allows you to use a very small quantity of fluid – which is good news when working with expensive or finite samples. In addition, microfluidic devices are typically smaller than other devices, making them easily portable. Controlling flow is also usually easier with microfluidics than with large volumes of fluids, adding to the preciseness of the application and helping to mitigate the effects of mass transport limitation.
On the other hand, because of their small size, the microchannels in microfluidic devices are prone to clogging. The risk is especially high when there are large and/or sticky particles in the flow – for example, with fluids like 100% whole blood or undiluted serum and plasma, cell supernatant, cell membrane preps, virus-like particles (VLPs), liposomes, viscous detergents, DMSO, and acetonitrile.
To overcome this challenge, Malvern Panalytical developed the Creoptix WAVEsystem: a solution that measures binding kinetics using no-clog microfluidics. Our solution has been designed to work with a broad range of sample types to preserve activity and biological context, saving time by cutting out detrimental purification steps, and reducing the risk of clogging that could take other systems offline.
Microfluidic technology often uses microfluidic chips: small devices with engraved or molded microchannels through which the liquid being analyzed can flow. Either the whole chip is fitted into the microfluidic device, or the chip’s in- and outlets are connected to an external device that controls the flow.
The innovative design of the WAVEchip, our patented microfluidic cartridge, integrates all the microfluidics into a disposable cartridge rather than the device core, and places large bore standard valves downstream in the instrument instead of having microvalves near the chip. As a result, it supports crude samples, pathogenic samples, harsh solvents, and large particles of up to 1,000 nm. Ultra-fast transitions enable kinetic analysis of weakly binding fragments in 150 ms for reliable determination of off-rates of 10 s-1.
Section view of WAVEchip, showing microfluidics integrated into the disposable cartridge by placing the downstream valves instead of microvalves near the chip.