Micro-fluidic systems and so-called lab-on-a-chip systems are technologies with enormous potential for growth. These permit biological and chemical analyses to be carried out more swiftly and easily. Furthermore these systems can be used to conduct diagnostic tests, which previously have only been possible in the laboratory. Now an international consortium spearheaded by the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT in Aachen, Germany, has come together with the aim of ensuring the possibility to manufacture these systems cost-effectively in the future.
The combination of micro-fluidic, micro-electronic and micro-optical systems opens up new horizons for biomedical research and creates new markets for medical engineering applications. However, the high manufacturing costs coupled with a lack of standards, have so far prevented this type of system from gaining a strong foothold in the market. The main problem is the lack of methods suitable for manufacturing lab-on-a chip systems on an industrial scale. A number of microfluidic elements have also proved to be at least partially incompatible with conventional laboratory equipment.
The consortium working on the EU-funded “ML² – MultiLayer MicroLab” research project aims to change these deficits and to promote an economical serial manufacture of these systems on an industrial scale by developing a new manufacturing process. To this end, the project partners are developing a new, modular production line which will be capable not only of producing large quantities in a short time but which can also be modified easily and flexibly in the desired way. The project partners intend to use the new production line to manufacture a range of sample lab-on-a-chip systems in order to highlight the wide range of fields of application for the new production technology. It is anticipated that three demonstrators, one for DNA analysis, one for analyzing drinking water and one for pregnancy testing will be produced in the course of the research project.
Besides the Fraunhofer IPT, the members of the project consortium are the Polyscale GmbH & Co. KG spin-off as well as two industrial partners from Germany, Finland, Spain and Great Britain as well as one partner from France and one from Italy. The project is funded to the tune of 7.69 million euros until fall in 2016 under the 7th framework programme of the European Union. It is envisaged that the first examples of the newly developed systems will be ready for presentation by the end of the year 2014.
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