Microfluidic devices underpin lab-on-a-chip (LOC) technologies that are developed to provide the rapid diagnoses needed at point of care for the swift, effective treatment of many diseases.

Researchers at the University of Bristol have developed a fast, reliable, and cost-effective alternative for producing the soft-lithographic molds used for fabricating microfluidic devices. This discovery means microfluidic device fabrication is now and affordable using simple, low-cost 3D-printing techniques and the open-source resources developed by the team.

“Previously, techniques for producing the soft-lithographic scaffolds/molds (microfluidic channel patterns) were time-consuming and extremely expensive, while other low-cost alternatives were prone to unfavorable properties. This development could put LOC prototyping into the hands of researchers and clinicians who know the challenges best, in particular those in resource-limited settings, where rapid diagnostics may often have the greatest impact,” said Dr. Robert Hughes, lead author of the study.

Harry Felton, co-author, said: “This technique is so simple, quick, and cheap that devices can be fabricated using only everyday domestic or educational appliances and at a negligible cost (about 0.05 percent of the cost of materials for a single microfluidic device). This means researchers and clinicians could use our technique and resources to help fabricate rapid medical diagnostic tools, quickly and cheaply, with minimal additional expertise or resources required.”

“It is our hope that this will democratize microfluidics and LOC technology, help to advance the development of point-of-care diagnostics, and inspire the next generation of researchers and clinicians in the field,” added Hughes.

The next step for the team is to identify potential collaborators in both research and education to help demonstrate the impact this technology could have by developing and supporting outreach activities and applications for on-chip diagnostic testing.