Microfluidic Compartmentalization for Smart Materials, Medical Diagnostics and Cell Therapy
Abstract: The organisation of fluids in small compartments is ubiquitous in nature, such as in the cellular composition of all life. This work explores several engineering avenues where microscale fluid compartmentalization can bring novel material properties or novel functionality in life sciences or medicine. Here, we introduce four unique compartmentalization methods: 1) 3D fluid self-organisation in microscaffolds (FLUID3EAMS), 2) 2D microcapillary arrays on a dipstick (Digital Dipstick), 3) a sliding microfluidic platform with cross-flow (Slip-X-Chip), and 4) compartmentalization by cutting of soft solid matter (Solidify & Cut). These methods were used in a wide range of applications. Within the area of smart materials, we applied FLUID3EAMS to synthesize materials with temperature-tuneable permeability and surface energy and to establish, in a well-controlled fashion, tissue-like materials in the form of 3D droplet interface bilayer networks. Solidify & Cut was used to form soft composites with a new type of magnetic behaviour, rotation-induced ferromagnetism, that allows easy reprogramming of the magnetization of magnetopolymers. Within the area of medical diagnostics, we applied Digital Dipstick to perform rapid digital bacterial culture in a dipstick format and obtained clinically relevant diagnostic results on samples from patients with a urinary tract infection. Furthermore, Slip-X-Chip enables particle concentration and washing as new functions in sliding microfluidic platforms, which significantly expands their potential application area. Finally, within the area of cell therapy, we explored the microencapsulation of high concentrations of therapeutic cells and presented a novel technique to fabricate core-shell microcapsules by exploiting the superior material properties of spider silk membranes.
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