Microfluidics is the term to describe the study of behaviour, manipulation and control of the movement of small volumes of fluid in microchannels. A microfluidic system is the science and technology in which the process or manipulation of small amounts of fluids around the 10-9 to 10-8 can be used to measure and analyse (1).
As microfluidic technology continuously advances, we are racing to develop innovative technology, designs and devices that can lead the next generation of diagnostics and dominate the market. The global market forecast for microfluidics is forecasted to reach an estimate of $58.8 billion by 2023 (2). A 16.3% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) is anticipated from 2021 to 2028 (3).
Microfluidic research and interest from key industry players increased significantly during the current pandemic: our understanding of the technology extended alongside this, as microfluidic technology was integrated into point of care (POC) devices that are in high demand to improve the sensitivity, specificity and lower limits of detection. Although the microfluidic industry took a big step forward, there are still challenges that we need to overcome (4,5).
How has the recent pandemic influenced the commercial landscape for microfluidics?
COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm, disrupting the daily lives of people worldwide; despite the devastation, it has had a positive impact on the microfluidic industry by directing the focus of many key industry players to meet the demand for microfluidic based POC tests and in vitro diagnostics (IVD) tests, used in drug discovery and COVID-19 tests (2). With the increased demand for more rapid diagnostic tests, it meant that microfluidic kits that were being developed were advanced to allow accurate and precise diagnosis of patients at POC; this opened the door for microfluidics and garnered a lot of interest (2). Renowned companies including Abbott Laboratories and Quidel Corporation developed lateral flow assays for COVID-19 diagnostics.
Lab-on-a-chip (LOC) technology currently dominates the market and in 2020 it was reported to have the largest revenue share of 38.5% (3). Advantages of LOC compared to the traditional techniques are that they can be miniaturised, have fast result turnaround, low cost and only require a small sample volume; which can be processed within the LOC device. A lot of research has been going into further developing these devices however, easy reproducibility of the final product is still one of the key limitations, as well as the requirement for an external system, such as a flow control system to work. Research is also being conducted to increase the number of different tests that a single device can do in one run to help improve POC diagnostics but, the potential of LOC technology to provide real-time monitoring in the home or anywhere in the world has the government and large corporations investing money and time to deliver these (6): creating a larger market for LOC in the future (3).
Recent advancement of microfluidics has opened possibilities of developing 3D cell culture systems, known as organ-on-a-chip (OOC), to mimic the microenvironment in tissue differentiation and many other biological phenomena of living organs for drug development, toxicity testing, precision medicine and many more. The ability to study IVD models via OOC could allow us to move away from using animal models: testing on an imitation of the human organ microenvironment will also give more insight into possible reactions to drugs or environmental stimuli (7). OOC has been expected to have a CAGR of 21.9% from 2021-2028 (3).
Other potential applications that have attracted a lot of attention is wearable devices, especially with the incorporation of microfluidics and smartphone technology. Wearable devices can be used at point of care in clinical and veterinary diagnostics, as signal monitoring systems or sensors. The incorporation of microfluidic technology would allow sample preparation and analysis to be conducted in a small device that sends results to users. The potential of this reality is near and many companies globally have invested in developing these (3).
Why isn’t microfluidics widely used?
Despite the huge potential of microfluidic application and commercial growth, there are still challenges, such as regulatory policies and criteria for distribution and use, which consists of a lengthy and difficult process to get a drug or diagnostics to market (3). In times of emergency, like the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA gave emergency use authorisation for COVID-19 diagnostics test however, none were officially FDA approved before manufacture and distribution (8).
OPKO Health, Inc.’s Sangia Total Prostate Specific Antigen test was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States. It was approved in 2019 after 2 years since it was first submitted in 2017: it is the first quantitative POC immunoassay to measure the total PSA for prostate cancer detection (9).
Additionally, the technology is not as widely adopted in many potential applications due to other factors including the lack of standardisation for commercial diagnostics devices. However, with time, new developments in finding the abilities of microfluidics we can exploit adding to our understanding of the capabilities and power the technology holds we can overcome some of these limitations and develop a commercial standard for approval (3).
What are the hopes for microfluidics?
With the increased prevalence of lifestyle-related diseases, infectious diseases and the popularity of home healthcare, the global demand for POC diagnostics tests shows great potential in generating increased profitable growth within the diagnostics market: simultaneously driving the increased growth of the overall microfluidic industry (2).
Outside of healthcare and diagnostics, microfluidics also has great potential in other applications and sectors including agriculture, food safety and genetic research. Moving away from animal testing and using OOC technology for greater disease monitoring and research (8).
Commercialised microfluidics shows exciting potential, especially with the broadening applications that microfluidics can be manipulated and utilised for in the future, as we continue to advance our technology. However, to help microfluidics broaden its current potential and out-perform the existing technology in many applications, industrial maturation needs to match academic efforts.
How do we fit into the future of microfluidics?
Electrochemical detection methods for microfluidics have been of high interest due to their ability to be miniaturised and integrated into microfluidic platforms. The development of biosensors has allowed lower limits of detection to be reached; improving diagnostics and monitoring of blood glucose levels for example. Additionally, with electrical impedance spectroscopy (EIS), cell membrane characteristics, cell structure and more can be studied to understand biological systems changes better (1).
Our expertise in microfluidics and electrochemistry allows us to assist in taking products to market with our 98% pure graphene foam to enhance properties, such as high sensitivity and selectivity, lower limits of detection and rapid prototyping to design for manufacture.
We enable better products with our bespoke LOC and assay development services to take your product concept to market. Scalable, reproducible, tailor-made R&D services to translate existing classic laboratory tests and concept designs into new, powerful and cost-effective electrochemical microfluidic platforms. Get in touch with us today, if you want to lead the next generation of diagnostics.
- Chem.2021, 93, 1, 311–331, Publication Date: November 10, 2020, https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.analchem.0c04366
- MarketsandMarkets: Microfluidics market by application, material, diagnostic enduser-2020, http://www.marketsandmarkets.com/MarketReports/microfluidics-market-1305.html(2016)
- Grand View Research: Microfluidics market size, share & trends analysis report by technology (Medical, non medical). By application (lab-on-a-chip, organs-on-a-chip), by material (polymer, silicon, glass, PDMS), by region, and segment forecasts, 2021-2028, https://www.grandviewresearch.com/industry-analysis/microfluidics-market (Apr, 2021)
- Pezzuto, F., Scarano, A., Marini, C., Rossi, G., Stocchi, R., Di Cerbo, A, et al. (2019). Assessing reliability of commercially available point of care in various clinical fields. Open Public Health J. 12, 342–368. doi: 10.2174/1874944501912010342
- Gerald, J. K., William, J. F., and Laurie, E. K. (2014). Principles of point of care culture, the spatial care path, and enabling community and global resilience: enabling community and global resilience. EJIFCC25, 134–153.
- Yuksel Temiz, Robert D. Lovchik, Govind V. Kaigala, Emmanuel Delamarche, “Lab-on-a-chip devices: How to close and plug the lab?”, Microelectronic Engineering, 132, (2015), 156-175, doi: 10.1016/j.mee.2014.10.013
- Wu, Q., Liu, J., Wang, X. et al.Organ-on-a-chip: recent breakthroughs and future prospects. BioMed Eng OnLine 19, 9 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12938-020-0752-0
- Sachdeva S, Davis RW and Saha AK (2021) Microfluidic Point-of-Care Testing: Commercial Landscape and Future Directions. Bioeng. Biotechnol.8:602659. doi: 10.3389/fbioe.2020.602659
- Meyer, A.R., Gorin, M.A. First point-of-care PSA test for prostate cancer detection. Nat Rev Urol16, 331–332 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41585-019-0179-1