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NSF Supports Expanding Lab-On-Chip Integration, Manufacturing Center

Cadmim leadership

Cadmim leadership, L-R, Abraham Lee and Gisela Lin with UC-Irvine, and Ian Papautsky of UI-Chicago (Univ of California in Irvine)

20 Nov. 2018. A new federal grant supports expansion of a research and development center developing techniques to make the manufacture and integration of microfluidic, or lab-on-a-chip, devices easier and less expensive. The 5-year, $1.25 million award from National Science Foundation continues the work of the Center for Advanced Design and Manufacturing of Integrated Microfluidics, or Cadmim, at University of Illinois in Chicago and University of California in Irvine.

Microfluidic devices are handheld or smaller systems with microscale channels etched or drilled through the surface that simulate lab processes on a larger scale. The devices are used in research for simulation of biological processes and organs, and medical practice for diagnostics. These devices usually require tiny specimen (e.g. blood or saliva) samples, and can be linked together into more complex systems. In addition to health and medicine, microfluidic systems are found in chemistry, engineering, and agriculture.

Cadmim was first established in 2014 to transform microfluidics from primarily a laboratory tool into a more widely used technology. The center, housed both in Chicago and Irvine, collaborates with industry partners, as well as national and military research labs to develop specialized microfluidic devices. Since 2014, NSF provided some $836,000 for Cadmim, with the new funds divided between the 2 institutions: $750,000 for UC-Irvine and $500,000 for UI-Chicago.

The new grant supports more of these collaborations to simplify and standardize lab-on-a-chip, or LOC technologies, make them more readily available, and bring down their costs. The award documents specifically point out, “What does not yet exist are mass-produced, cost-effective LOC platforms that integrate components to carry out multiple microfluidic/diagnostic functions and report results via a standard communications device. A primary obstacle is the lack of integration-enabling and manufacturable LOCs capable of processing real-world samples.” The next phase of the project aims to adapt more current scalable processes into microfluidics, and design new microfluidic devices that work autonomously, are easily deployed, and can be manufactured in quantity.

“We look forward to bringing more industry partners on board,” says UI-Chicago bioengineering professor Ian Papautsky in a joint university statement, “working with them to advance microfluidics technology and develop solutions to their needs, and also to providing unique internship opportunities to our grad students through these partnerships.” Papautsky leads the Chicago branch of Cadmim, while the Irvine section is led by biomedical engineering professor Abraham Lee and researcher Gisela Lin.

Among the current Cadmim projects is development of a human liver model built with microfluidics and induced pluripotent stem cells. The research, conducted with drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, aims to design a high-speed platform for screening compound candidates that includes the ability to add in cells from individual patients. Another initiative with Corteva Agriscience, a division of DowDuPont, explores using microfluidics for plant genetic analysis to help breed crop varieties that can better adapt to changing weather conditions. That project already produced a prototype device.

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