Lab-on-a-chip market driven by microfluidics

Related tags Drug discovery High-throughput screening

Constant innovation in the field of microfluidics and uTAS has
enabled lab-on-a-chip (LOC) technologies to successfully enter the
mainstream commercial market especially impacting on
high-throughput screening of drug candidates, point of care testing
and bioinformatics.

The report, compiled by market researchers Frost & Sullivan​, detail how LOC technologies have specifically targeted the drug discovery industry. This is largely because of the scale and high automation of the sector. Pharmaceutical companies are aiming to reduce sample volumes in order to cut back on reagent costs. This drives the demand for LOCs that offer precision, flexibility, and ease of use.

Other advantages include portability, rapid assay times, and smaller sample requirements are likely to accelerate the adoption of LOC technology, especially in the defence and public health sectors.

Miniaturised platform technologies are no longer new concepts, with chips and microarrays becoming standard tools for the high-throughput analysis of gene expression. The power of microarray analysis lies in the ability to compare large sets of genes in different tissues or conditions to identify pathways and regulatory networks.

Technical Insights research analyst Katherine Austin explained: "There are many reasons why LOCs score over traditional methods of analysis."

"While conventional laboratory analysis is time consuming, tedious, and requires expensive equipment and highly trained personnel, bench-top analysis in LOCs can be several times cheaper and faster."

LOC design has increasingly become the key to its success. For example, microseperations are required for the reliable operation of analytical LOCs, especially those working on whole samples such as blood and urine.

Recent developments in microfluidics show that the more affordable plastics/polymers are gaining popularity over their more expensive counterparts such as glass and silicon micromachining.

Austin commented: "LOC developers have learned to work with plastics applying surface modifications or coatings, and manipulating polymer chemistry so that the initial compatibility issues have been, for the most part, solved."

In an attempt to lower price on LOCs, cost cutting initiatives have been developed. Disposable chips. cards or discs form a large part of the commercial manufacturing process, produced inexpensively by injection molding. As a result the LOCs are easier to manufacture and facilitate the development of lower priced, more rugged and flexible electronic devices.

Indeed, the prolific growth of the use of plastics/polymers along with technological advances in microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), semiconductor microfabrication methods, biosensors, and biomedical engineering expects to have a positive impact on the commercialisation of LOC.

This trend in the market is perfect for microfluidics and uTAS development for LOC to ascend to the next level. Currently almost anything can be embedded into an active microfluidics LOC, including sensors, filtration membranes, optics, digital readouts and global positioning system chips.

Increasing modularity of microfluidic and uTAS to allow LOCs to multitask has led to enzymic reactions, filtration, and electrospray ionisation being incorporated onto the same chip. The increasing demands of the market has led to microfluidic and uTAS LOCs becoming more open and modular both in terms of combining multiple chips and integrating chips with existing laboratory instrumentation and equipment.

Ironically, the innovative nature of LOC has caused it to become a victim of its own success. Many LOC researchers need to address the problems that stem from the constant bid to improve design, alienating core users and eroding market position strength. In improving in such areas such as mechanics for microfluidics and uTAS, the possibility of appropriate target and niche marketing will be crucial in gaining long-term commercial success.

The report concludes the market for LOC microfluidic systems is likely to be limited to target customers who have installed expensive dispensers and high throughput screening systems. LOC technology will need to demonstrate unique benefits to gain and justify the additional investment.

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