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Vienna: 3D printing Prototypes for Cutting the Cost of Lab-on-a-Chip & Organ-on-a-Chip Systems

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A variety of new microfabrication methods are available now for creating rapid prototypes and new systems, and Vienna University of Technology researchers explain new research in ‘Characterization of four functional biocompatible pressure-sensitive adhesives for rapid prototyping of cell-based lab-on-a-chip and organ-on-a-chip systems.’

The goal of the research study was to cut down on both time and cost in creating lab-on-a-chip technology. In studying micro-structuring of pressure-sensitive adhesives, the authors learned that design flexibility, fast prototyping, and easy assembly were all benefits but with one drawback: most adhesives created today are toxic and would not allow for cell sustainability in bioprinting.

The researchers sought out cells and organ-on-a-chip concepts that could be created in both 2D and 3D, along with those that would offer biocompatible materials; after all, in the end, when it comes to bioprinting, the focus is on sustaining cell life. Even with a range of advantages offered for bioprinting and creating microchannel networks, the researchers state that lab-on-a-chip technology is still expensive to produce and prototyping and producing final designs can take years—often because so many iterations are required due to the complexities of working with living cells.

“It is important to note that standard cell culture techniques are optimized for static conditions using large cell numbers and high medium volumes employing coated polystyrene flasks and culture plates. This means that integration of living cell cultures into microfluidic devices and miniaturization of cell-based assays is not straight forward, does not follow simple scaling laws and in many cases requires an empirical approach to adjust oxygen demands, nutrient supply, waste removal and the application of adequate shear-force conditions,” state the researchers.

“Consequently, rapid prototyping methods are key for cost and time reduction, since they offer fast design alterations resulting in improved cell culture optimization and feasibility studies.”

(A) Process flow and (B) time investment for rapid prototyping of pressure sensitive biomedical adhesives (PSAs).

With pressure-sensitive adhesive tapes, the researchers noted a decrease in concept-to-chip time. Not too many adhesives can be used in bioprinting though, so ultimately the research team had four options to examine: three acrylic and one silicone adhesive.

“Since material properties play a key role in microfluidic cell culture applications, oxygen and vapor permeability as well as optical transparency including autofluorescence were investigated in more detail in the next set of experiments. While transfer of oxygen permeability was monitored using integrated oxygen microsensors, vapor permeability was measured indirectly via increase of air bubble volume over time,” explained the researchers.

They discovered that stable ‘biochip operations’ could be sustained over several weeks with the following:

  • High flow rates
  • Physiological temperatures
  • 100 percent humidity

During the study, biological characterization exhibited ‘excellent biocompatibilities,’ offering a way for cells to form, ‘pointing at low adhesive properties…’

Biocompatibility of biomedical-grade pressure sensitive adhesives including (A) metabolic activity Data bars are mean values ± SD for n = 3 (B) viability and (C) adhesion of BeWo b30 epithelial cells. Viability is expressed as percentage of living cells normalized to control glass substrates after 24 and 48 h post-seeding.

“Overall, rapid prototyping using pressure-sensitive adhesive tapes allows for one-step manufacturing with fast concept-to-chip time and its application is highly feasible even for cell-based microfluidic devices that require multiple stacked layers as well as integrated porous membranes,” concluded the authors. “We believe that medical-grade pressure-sensitive adhesive tapes present a viable alternative to overcome the challenge of integrating multiple functional layers of different polymer types including rigid pneumatic and fluidic layers as well as flexible membranes in a fast and reproducible manner.”

The lab-on-a-chip concept has grown from an idea few of us knew about previously to a burgeoning realm of technology meant to offer greater efficiency, affordability, and compactness to 3D printed mini-labs, different bioprinting platforms, and new processes. What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts! Join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com.

Comparison between numerical design and actual dimensions of microfluidic structures out of double-sided pressure sensitive biomedical adhesives after plotter rapid prototyping. Data points are presented as mean values ± SD for n = 3.

[Source / Images: ‘Characterization of four functional biocompatible pressure-sensitive adhesives for rapid prototyping of cell-based lab-on-a-chip and organ-on-a-chip systems’]

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