Microfluidic technology promises to make a lot of medical tests, that are currently expensive and difficult to perform, a lot cheaper, easier, and more portable. While there’s been a tremendous amount of progress in this field, challenges remain. One is that microfluidic devices coming out of labs are often powered by much larger, external pumps that are very precise and can be programmed to control their output. These pumps, while helping to do proofs-of-concept, point to the limitations of microfluidics. Now researchers at North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have come up with a small, paper based fluid pump that can be accurately controlled to move fluids through a microfluidic system.
The pumps, which are essentially hydraulic batteries, use capillary action to move the liquid. In a way, they’re finely tuned paper towels that pull liquid into themselves, and this pull can be regulated either by changing the size of the pump or by stacking multiple such paper pumps on top of each other.
Each pump costs pennies to make and that can drop to nearly nothing if manufactured on a large scale. The pumps can also serve as a diagnostic reservoir that can be tapped at a later time, since they absorb the output of a microfluidic device.
The researchers have now filed a patent on this technology and are looking for partners to help commercialize it.
Study in journal Technology: Modular pumps as programmable hydraulic batteries for microfluidic devices…