International IP protection for the centrifugal microfluidic chip control

- Boucherville, Quebec

Something to celebrate!

The centrifugal microfluidic chip control, developed by Teodor Veres, Daniel Brassard, Liviu Clime and François Normandin from the Medical Devices Research Centre at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC), has received patent protection around the world, from the Canadian Intellectual Patent Office and the patent offices of the United States, Japan, Australia and South Korea as well as the European Patent Office. Congratulations to the NRC's research and IP management teams!

A micro device leads to great innovation…

Microfluidic chips are small devices used for biological testing in a wide variety of fields, such as medicine, pharmaceutical research, pathogen detection and food and water analysis. The chips, which contain miniature channels and reservoirs that allow liquid buffers and reagents to circulate, automate all the steps for performing assays that would normally require trained personnel in the laboratory. They allow precise control and manipulation of small volumes of liquids of only a few microlitres, with remarkable results. Using centrifugal and pneumatic forces with microfluidic chips, the research team at the NRC developed a new technology that can be used with more complex biological assays while still allowing the use of simple microfluidic devices, which can be mass produced at low cost.

However, at the microscale, the predominance of surface tension over other forces such as gravitation may cause the liquids to become fragmented inside the microfluidic device, which can make it difficult to control the movement of the microfluids. The liquids may stay in a certain part of a chamber rather than approach a desired exit, which leads to uncoordinated movement and prevents the assay from being executed as it should be. Some of these challenges can be overcome by rotating the devices at high speed to create a strong centrifugal force. However, centrifugal force alone cannot draw fluid through all the microfluidic channels.

To address this challenge, the team developed a new technique for incorporating pneumatic control in centrifugal microfluidics. This technique involves a chip controller that has pressurized fluid supply lines joining one or more pressurized chambers of the controller with ports of a microfluidic chip. With at least part of the chip controller mounted to a centrifuge, the controller rotates with the chip. In addition, a flow control device in each supply line selectively controls the pressurized fluid supply and electrically controls the air entering and leaving the centrifuge tubes and during the various mixing, heating and cooling operations occurring on the chip.

…around the world and all the way into space

When coupled with the NRC 's portable centrifuge—the PowerBlade, this new centrifugal microfluidic chip control opens the door to improvements in diagnostic processes for Canadians and people all around the world. Furthermore, because this technology can be used in a variety of fields, it contributes greatly to the Canadian government reaching its goals in the areas of health and sustainability, 2 of its main priorities.

Our researchers are working on projects with Health Canada to improve testing and diagnostic methods, with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to improve food security through detecting potential pathogens, and even with the Canadian Space Agency to monitor the health of astronauts, not only while they're in space but also upon their return to Earth.

The centrifugal microfluidic chips might be small, but the impact of this mighty device is being felt all around the world and in space too!

A lab technician inserts a microfluidic chip into the PowerBlade portable centrifuge.

A lab technician inserts a microfluidic chip into the PowerBlade portable centrifuge.