University of Tasmania Research Team Receives $630K ARC Grant to Develop 3D Printed Lab-on-a-Chip Tech

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university-of-tasmania3D printing is capable of creating extremely large objects, like cars and even office buildings, but it can also be used to fabricate tiny objects, like a lab-on-a-chip. These mini laboratories, which integrate several lab functions into one location, are 3D printed onto small microchips, usually no bigger than a few centimeters. The applications range from diagnostics to analysis, and research being conducted at the University of Tasmania (UTAS) just received grant funding to continue developing these portable labs that can fit in your pocket. UTAS Professor Michael Breadmore, an analytical chemist and an Australian Research Council (ARC) Future Fellow with the UTAS Faculty of Science, Engineering and Technology, explained that the best way to describe the research he and his students are conducting was to think about home pregnancy test kits.

Professor Michael Breadmore with a portable device that can mesarure nitrate levels. [Image: ABC Radio Hobart, Bridget Hickey]

Professor Michael Breadmore with a portable device that can mesarure nitrate levels. [Image: ABC Radio Hobart, Bridget Hickey]

Professor Breadmore told ABC Radio Hobart, “That’s an example of where a portable chemical analysis gives us some information where we can make decisions about our life and what we might do with that knowledge. My job is to be able to test anything that people want to be able to test.”

Last week, his research team was given a large grant, totaling $630,000, from the ARC, in order to work on developing portable analytical devices that are able to interact with a smartphone. The ARC’s Linkage Projects scheme awarded funding to a total of four UTAS research projects. The UTAS research team is led by Professor Breadmore, who also works with the UTAS Australian Centre for Research on Separation Science (ACROSS), and the team will be conducting its 3D printing research together with Young Optics, Taiwanese company behind MiiCraft 3D printers. The joint research project will be carried out over three years.

young-opticsProfessor Breadmore said that working with Young Optics will definitely help his team in creating the next generation of portable analytical systems, like a portable nitrate level kit, used to measure fertilizer runoff in waterways.

“In terms of research we are leading the micro-engineering space with 3D printers. I’m interested in tailoring portable systems across a range of areas – from measuring nutrients in fertiliser run-off to health through easy and accessible diagnostic devices for therapeutics and biomarkers,” he explained.

[Image: UTAS via Facebook]

[Image: UTAS via Facebook]

The nitrate level kit is just one of many potential uses for innovative lab-on-chip technology – Professor Breadmore wants to be able to create medical analysis devices in the future, sort of like how diabetics use portable devices at home to monitor blood-glucose levels every day.

Professor Michael Breadmore

Professor Michael Breadmore

Professor Breadmore said, “My personal interest has been looking at therapeutics in body fluids for personalised medicine and managing drug treatment at home. Being able to monitor that and then adjust your doses is something I think we’ll be doing in the next 20 to 30 years.”

He scoffs at the notion that analytical chemists, such as himself, only have limited research fields, and explained that he utilizes technology and ideas from many areas while developing lab-on-a-chip technology.

“Over the past five years I have been focused on three main applications areas: the first for the detection of trace levels of pharmaceutical pollutants within natural and waste waters; the second on the detection of pharmaceuticals in biological fluids, such as blood, serum and urine; and the third on the ability to rapidly detect homemade explosives. Being able to analyse samples – of blood, or explosives reside, measuring the health of mussels, or anything else – on the spot, as needed, has the potential to revolutionise so many industries and impact a society in a completely different way,” Professor Breadmore said.

“The more creative you are, the more interesting and exciting research you can do. You still need to be able to think in a logical and structural manner, but my own and my team’s best breakthroughs have come from pursuing ideas that might be considered crazy. I encourage that.”

Two 3D printed chemical analytic devices developed by Professor Michael Breadmore and his team. Research grants will allow them to work to make them even smaller. [Image: ABC Radio Hobart, Bridget Hickey]

Two 3D printed chemical analytic devices developed by Professor Michael Breadmore and his team. [Image: ABC Radio Hobart, Bridget Hickey]

His team has already developed two different systems, Scantex and CEScan, that are able to detect homemade explosives, after the Australian forensic and policing authorities worked with the researchers to develop a reliable method for the application. CEScan surmounted the challenges that limit existing screening techniques, and is the first comprehensive lab-based instrumentation in the world that can detect a full range of explosives. Scantex is not comprehensive like CEScan is, but it can screen for homemade explosives made from inorganic materials in under a minute.

“My advice to new researchers is to keep working on the things that shouldn’t work – ignore the boundaries other people impose on your area of research,” said Professor Breadmore. “Forget working outside the box – there is no box.”

Discuss in the UTAS forum at 3DPB.com.

[Sources: UTAS News, UTAS, ABC]

 

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