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What Are Microfluidic Devices And How They Are Used?

What Are Microfluidic Devices And How They Are Used?

Though they have hundreds of applications, only some are familiar with microfluidic devices. This is despite the fact they are important to a multitude of industries. As the name suggests, microfluidic devices are small handheld devices that use channels to move fluid at the tiniest level [1]. While that sounds like a tremendous technological achievement, many may not understand how microfluidic devices work, their applications, and the advantages they provide.

At a layman’s level, businesses and other organizations use microfluidic devices to mix, separate, and create reactions, as well as to use their fluid dynamics to perform analysis [2]. They accomplish this by allowing small amounts of fluid to follow a set path, known as “laminar flow” [3]. This ability, combined with the device’s design, creates desired functions such as droplet generation, cell separation, or running home-based diagnostic tests [4]. Microfluidics also make sweat sensors work and manage the growth of cells used for drug testing [5].

What Are Some of Their Applications?

As the market for microfluidic devices has grown, it now encompasses cancer research, in vitro diagnostic testing (IVD), remote analysis, point-of-care testing, and multiplexed analysis across fields as diverse as human health monitoring and oil and gas extraction analysis [6].

The life sciences implement microfluidics extensively in studying single cells or organisms to learn how various chemicals affect cell viability [7]. Chemical companies are now using these devices to assess their product effects on ecosystems, and even cosmetic companies are tapping into microfluidics to eliminate the use of animal testing [8].

Yet perhaps no field has benefitted from this technology more than medicine, as microfluidic channel devices allow researchers the ability to study, at a single-cell level, the effects of new drugs [9]. Researchers now extensively use them to study in vitro tissues in microphysiological systems, leading to the approval of new medications [10]. In addition, researchers use these devices to improve the chances of new medicines reaching the market by ensuring safety and efficacy that better mimic human biology.

However, the area in which microfluidic devices have completely revolutionized is the “Point of Care” medical space. This refers to the ability of healthcare professionals to perform the analysis while with the patient, known as “bedside testing.”

Challenges Microfluidics Overcome

Before microfluidic devices, testing various agents, chemicals, and systems required the collection and transport of samples to a centralized lab [11]. Not only does this increase the cost of testing, but it may also increase the risk of mislabeling or mishandling the sample, leading to an erroneous result [12].

The total test time is also an important consideration for cost and throughput, and microfluidics increases the speed of testing and the total number of tests that can be done at the same time. Microfluidics miniaturizes sample testing, reducing the amount of space needed to run a large number of different samples [13].

Related: Advantages of Microfluidics Devices

Future Uses of Microfluidics

The future of microfluidics is promising, with a current market size greater than $500 million per annum and a CAGR of over 10%. Advancements in Life Science research tools for therapeutic discovery and testing will lead to the growth of microfluidic technology as higher throughput and smaller sample volumes reduce the cost per test. This technology will certainly apply to the medical field in many more ways, and multiple other industries are seeing the advantages of using these devices.

Companies in the energy sector, especially those that are investing in “green” technologies, will find microfluidic devices helpful in their research. Conservation organizations and those who study the environment will be able to use this technology to make on-the-spot assessments of the health of components of the ecosystem. They can even be used for investigative purposes to find the source of a biohazard. However, maybe the biggest advantage that microfluidic devices provide is accessibility.

Because they are compact and portable, microfluidics-based products create opportunities for monitoring in a large number of places, mapping with greater resolution the environmental impact of the oil and gas industry, and improving the speed of vaccine development and manufacture. The need for costly facilities can be greatly reduced by facilitating distributed testing among several smaller, regional facilities or a mobile testing unit. This means that those who need the research capabilities that microfluidic devices can provide will have access to the assessment technology they need with a smaller budget. In effect, microfluidic devices democratize access to information used for making decisions about our health and environmental well-being [14].

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