Microfluidics, precision, and scalability are often no wider than human hair, which play a pivotal role in various fields, from biomedicine to chemistry. Conventional manufacturing methods have served their purpose but come with limitations, including complex fabrication processes and cost inefficiencies.
A team of researchers, led by Zhuming Luo from the fields of biomedical and chemical engineering in China, has introduced an innovative digital light processing (DLP) method that could potentially revolutionize microfluidic chip production. In a recent report published in Microsystems and Nanoengineering, they unveiled their groundbreaking approach, promising high-resolution microchannels with improved mechanical stability. Microfluidic chips are vital components in applications such as 3D cell culture, drug screening, and organ-on-a-chip assays. Traditional manufacturing methods like soft lithography and hot embossing, while effective, come with challenges. They involve intricate processes, low productivity, and substantial costs. The rise of 3D bioprinting has brought new possibilities, and digital light processing has played a significant role. It enables layer-by-layer vat photopolymerization, providing rapid processing speed and precision. However, prior limitations existed in terms of resolution and scalability.
The research team introduced the dosing- and zoning-regulated vat photopolymerization (DZC-VPP) method, a novel approach to high-resolution microfluidic chip fabrication. They addressed the challenge of achieving both precision and scalability, which are crucial for microfluidic devices’ widespread applications.
Key features of the DZC-VPP method include:
- Precise UV Irradiance Control: The team developed a mathematical model to predict UV irradiance for resin photopolymerization, enabling precise control over the printing process.
- Multi-Layered Design: The method divides microchannels into several layers, allowing for precise regulation of local resin polymerization. This approach improves printing fidelity and the internal surface quality of microchannels.
- Improved Mechanical Stability: The DZC-VPP fabricated chips demonstrated higher fracture stress and strain compared to conventional methods, indicating enhanced mechanical stability.
The DZC-VPP method offers numerous advantages:
- Biocompatibility: It is suitable for cell-related applications, with cell-laden microgels showing excellent biocompatibility.
- Droplet Generation: The method enables the generation of monodisperse droplets, a crucial aspect of microfluidic applications.
- Organ-on-a-Chip: This innovative fabrication method holds promise for developing organ-on-a-chip instruments, advancing research in drug testing and disease modeling.
The DZC-VPP method represents a significant leap forward in the world of microfluidics. Its ability to combine high-resolution printing, mechanical stability, and scalability opens doors to a wide range of applications in biomedicine and beyond. As researchers continue to refine and expand upon this method, we can anticipate groundbreaking developments in the field of microfluidic chip manufacturing.
By Thamarasee Jeewandara, Phys.org. A modern digital light processing technology to 3D print microfluidic chips.