Droplet-based microfluidic devices are now being successfully applied to studies in microbiology, detection and identification of pathogens, biotechnological applications and antibiotic susceptibility testing. In such systems, droplets are generated at rates up to several kHz and further carried and processed on the device. To perform a targeted analysis on the device, droplets undergo a number of unit operations (e.g., diluting, mixing or splitting) in a fixed and predefined order, which limits the flexibility and reusability of a microfluidic device.
Recently, microfluidic networks have been introduced as a new research field, which aims at realizing programmable and flexible microfluidic devices- a concept inspired by the conventional computer networks. In such systems, multiple Lab-on-a-Chip devices, each performing a different unit operation, are interconnected in a microfluidic network through a microfluidic switch. Using the microfluidic switch, it is possible to perform unit operations in arbitrary order, leading to programmable and flexible microfluidic platform that can be used for multiple applications.
- Screening of Waterborne Pathogens (joint project with Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, UK): Despite having modern water purification systems in place, waterborne pathogens are still a big threat to humans and livestock being responsible for an estimated 1.9 million human deaths each year. Due to their small size of 5 µm, micro-scale detection systems are still needed for finding new means of inactivating the water parasites. Utilizing microfluidic network for this application enables investigating the robustness of pathogens, which cannot be detected or deactivated using commercial water purification systems. Employing microfluidic networks, such pathogens can be tested for a number of disinfectants in a short time on a single microfluidic device. Moreover, since microfluidic networks are passive systems (they do not require any on-chip electronics), the viability of pathogens during testing is not compromised. The aim of the project is to develop first microfluidic platform that will meet industrial requirements for waterborne pathogen screening.
- Fast and Flexible Drug Screening: The pharmaceutical industry lacks insight into which bacteria are antibiotic resistant, or what exact amount of antibiotics is required for treating specific bacteria. Standard laboratory procedures are time demanding, expensive and lack of flexibility. For this reason, it is essential to have a platform, which allows high-throughput screening and antibiotic susceptibility testing of various bacteria. The proposed microfluidic network shown below can be used to generate droplets on demand (DoD), meaning droplets of arbitrary volumes that encapsulate various types and concentrations of antibiotics. The droplets are routed towards a micro reactor stage (LoC) where human cells (e.g., lung cells) are immobilized. Directing arbitrary number of droplets with antibiotics towards multiple microreactor stage enables fast and cheap drug screening.