Microfluidic devices are compact testing tools composed of tiny channels engraved on a chip, to allow biomedical researchers to study the properties of particles, cells, and liquids at a microscale. Microfluidic devices are critical for drug development, medical research, and diagnostic testing in areas such as diabetes, cancer, and most recently COVID-19.
On the downside, the production of microfluidic devices is labor-intensive with minute wells and channels that often needs to be engraved or molded into a transparent resin chip for testing using physical labor.
Whilst 3D printing provides several advantages for the manufacture of biomedical device, the techniques available earlier were not sensitive enough to build layers with the minute details required for microfluidic devices.
In a new development, researchers at the USC Viterbi school of Engineering have developed an exclusive 3D printing technique that permits microfluidic channels to be fabricated on chips at a precise microscale previously not attained.
To develop the technique, the research team used a type of 3D printing technology known as photopolymerization, wherein light is harnessed to control the conversion of liquid resin material into solid end state.
Following light projection, the areas to build parts of the chip can be decided, and because light is used, the resolution can be rather high within a layer. However, the worse resolution between layers is a critical challenge to build microscale channels. In fact, for the first time, researchers have been able to print something where height of the channel is at 10 micron level. This height can be controlled precisely to an error of minus or plus one micron. The development is a breakthrough in 3D printing of small channels never done before.