Microfluidic Devices: Tiny Gadgets that Save Lives

No one really likes going to the doctor, but sooner or later, we all must go. Some people are very afraid, however, and fear getting ill while waiting for their doctor in a room full of sick people. Some fear the bad news they might receive or the procedure they have to undergo. Many people are afraid of the lab tests and needles.

The next time you have to go to the doctor, try not to be afraid. Instead, preoccupy your mind with the marvels of modern science. Instead of thinking of the bad news you might receive, think about the miraculous cures that have been discovered in the last hundred years. Instead of fearing the finger-prick lab test, think about those cool microfluidic devices that are used as medical diagnostic tools.

What Are Microfluidic Devices?

Microfluidic devices are tiny gadgets that save lives. You know what devices are, but perhaps the word “microfluidics” has you confused. In fact, I am willing to bet you are wondering what in the world microfluidics are. According to Wikipedia, microfluidic devices are devices designed to handle, or process, very small amounts of liquid, such as blood or urine.

Microfluidic devices are manufactured through a process known as injection molding. With injection molding, materials, such as thermoplastic, are fed into a barrel, heated to the melting point, and then injected into a mold. As the material cools, it hardens into the shape of the mold. Microfluidic devices are unique in that they are very small and will handle small amounts of liquid. They are usually manufactured with biosensor layers, microfluidic channels, membranes, and hydrophilic fluid transport technologies.

Of What Use Are Microfluidic Devices?

Microfluidic devices are used as a diagnostic tool. A very small sample of blood on a microfluidic device can measure electrolytes, blood gases, blood sugar, coagulation, hematocrit/hemoglobin, and cardiac markers. These devices can also be used for drug screening. These portable lab-on-a-chip devices have revolutionized lab tests. It allows tests to be conducted in the field that could not previously be done. This is critically important technology for emergency medical technicians. It also allows patients with chronic illnesses to monitor their conditions at home.

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