Plug-in interface developed for microfluidic medical devices

Biomedical engineers at UC Davis have developed a plug-in interface for the microfluidic chips that will form the basis of the next generation of compact medical devices.

The team, from UC Davis, California, hope that the ‘fit to flow’ interface will become as ubiquitous as the USB interface for computer peripherals.

‘We think there is a huge need for an interface to bridge microfluidics to electronic devices,’ said Tingrui Pan, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at UC Davis, who invented the chip along with graduate student Arnold Chen.

Microfluidic devices use channels as small as a few micrometres across, cut into a plastic membrane, to carry out biological or chemical tests on a miniature scale. They could be used in compact devices used for medical diagnosis, food safety or environmental monitoring.

Mobile phones with powerful cameras could be turned into microscopes that could read such tests in the field, it is claimed.

It is, however, difficult to connect these chips to electronic devices that can read the results of a test and store, display or transmit it.

Pan believes that the fit-to-flow connectors can be integrated with a standard peripheral component interconnect (PCI) device, commonly used in consumer electronics, while an embedded micropump will provide on-demand, self-propelled microfluidic operations.

With this standard connection scheme, chips that carry out different tests could be plugged into the same device – such as a mobile phone, PDA or laptop – to read the results.

UC Davis filed a provisional patent on the invention on 1 November 2010. A paper describing the devices was published recently by the journal Lab on a Chip.