A collaboration between researchers at RMIT University and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, both in Melbourne Australia, has resulted in an inexpensive and easily manufactured pressure pump. The simple device, which consists of a latex balloon and nylon stockings, can pump biological samples around microfluidic devices, and is much smaller and cheaper than larger lab-based alternatives. The researchers hope that the pump could make microfluidics-based healthcare applications, such as point-of-care diagnostics, more accessible around the world.
Microfluidic devices have the potential to provide miniaturized diagnostic and analytical tools to clinicians that can be used instead of bulky and expensive laboratory equipment. Researchers are constantly working to make them less expensive and more suited for work in remote or low-resource regions.
“Parasitic micro-organisms have a major impact in impoverished communities in tropical and subtropical regions globally, but also in developed countries including Australia,” said Aaron Jex, a researcher involved in the study. “In order to address this there is an urgent need for field-based, low-cost diagnostic tools that work in challenging, sometimes remote and often complex environments very different from a pristine laboratory.”
Frequently, such devices require a pump to move samples around the microfluidic instrument. The Australian researchers turned to footballs for inspiration, as they can handle significant amounts of pressure thanks to their reinforced structure.
“We started with basic latex balloons, then realized that regular stockings made from nylon and elastane could be a perfect match to reinforce them, allowing them to hold significantly higher pressure and function as pumps,” said Peter Thurgood, another researcher involved in the study. “By simply wrapping three layers of stockings around the latex balloon we were able to increase its internal pressure by a factor of 10 – enough to run many water or blood analyses that would usually require large, expensive pumps.”
The device costs as little as $2 and can run microfluidic instruments for several hours with no significant pressure loss. To date, the researchers have successfully tested the device as a component of a microfluidic setup designed to detect cancer cells in liquid samples.
See a video about the device below:
Study in Lab on a Chip: Self-sufficient, low-cost microfluidic pumps utilising reinforced balloons
Via: RMIT University