The European Commission’s Horizon 2020 framework is the biggest Research and Innovation program ever launched by the EU. With almost €80 billion of available funding until the year 2020, the program has funded multiple important 3D printing projects, with applications in fields from medical and aviation to automotive and aerospace.
One intriguing project, which received €7.1 million in funding to use over the course of three years, was developed to accelerate the development of 3D printable microfluidics. The HoliFAB project is led by 3D printing company Sculpteo and Fluigent, a French microfluidics startup spun off from Institut Curie. Ten other partners, including Institut Curie and basic-research agency CNRS, will work with the Sculpteo and Fluigent partnership in order to innovate and industrialize microfluidics through the use of 3D printing.
Sculpteo, based in France with an additional location in California, is no stranger to using 3D printing to make the world a better place, and this new microfluidics research project is a testament to this.
According to a Sculpteo blog post written by Amandine Richardot, the European Commission wants to keep pushing “the limits of microfluidics in order to accelerate innovation and to help Europe become the epicenter of microfluidics research.”
Microfluidics – basically small-scale plumbing systems on a chip – lets researchers manipulate fluids on the micron scale, for easier analysis; the size of the drops are between a micrometer and a millimeter. Microfluidics is an important area of research in clinical diagnostics, biology, drug discovery, healthcare, and the medical field, as it can be used to analyze water quality, detect cancer, and even identify different bacteria in food.But it offers another advantage as well – microfluidics makes it possible to use a micro-laboratory to run multiple experiments at once, which obviously proves very useful for scientists and researchers. Unfortunately, microfluidics technology is complex, and platforms, which are not readily available, usually need a lot of resources and labor to work properly.
That’s why Sculpteo and Fluigent, which makes pumps, tools, valves, and other equipment for microfluidics solutions, have partnered up for this ambitious Horizon 2020 research project, which will work to speed up the development of microfluidics by using 3D printing.
“3D printing microfluidics tools will make the manufacturing of these new chips simple and real, which will push technology further, the same way the invention of microprocessors did in 1969,” explained Sculpteo CEO Clément Moreau.
This project hopes to, as Richardot puts it, “push the limits of the precision of 3D printing” so it’s possible to create high-performance microfluidics chips.
Microfluidics could be representative of a revolution not dissimilar to microprocessors in the scientific world, and 3D printing definitely has a part to play as it can be used to make the manufacturing of necessary equipment much simpler. The geometry of the chips and canals that are part and parcel of microfluidics platforms changes per application, which is why the iterative nature of the technology will be so useful.
While the HoliFAB 3D printing microfluidics project will only last for three years, it’s possible that the collaboration between Fluigent and Sculpteo could continue on once the Horizon 2020-funded project is complete.
“By giving this agility, this fast-paced execution in high-resolution 3D printing of microfluidics devices, we will be able to offer real laboratories, dedicated to each research field in a very short amount of time,” said France Hamber, the CEO of Fluigent. “This means gaining years when it comes to the discovery of new vaccines, in the simplification of the detection of diseases, but also in multiple industrial research fields.”
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