Collaborative microfluidics research between Oxford engineers and biologists has won the best poster award at the 4Bio Summit – 3rd Microfluidics Congress – in London.

A research collaboration between Engineering Sciences, the Sir William Dunn School of Pathology and Iota Sciences (a University of Oxford spin-out company) is developing a transformative approach to manipulating tiny volumes of fluid. The work was presented in a poster entitled “Fluidic-walled chambers for live cell and organism assays” with lead author Cristian Soitu (DPhil student in the Oxford Thermofluids Institute, Department of Engineering Science).

The research aims to enable biologists to implement microfluidic platforms using only the materials that they have used for decades. This is in contrast to the majority of microfluidic approaches that have failed to progress beyond the proof-of-concept stage, largely due to the complexity of fabrication and requirement to use materials not commonly found in cell biology. The poster introduces a novel method for creating arrays of square fluidic-walled sessile droplets using only standard cell culture dishes and cell culture media.

The method exploits the dominance of interfacial forces at the microscale and, by doing so, reshapes fluids to form arrays of square drops that contain nano-litre volumes. The resulting chambers are pliant and contain self-healing fluid walls to confine volumes as small as 10 nl.

Fluidic walled micro chambers

All the key fluid handling requirements for live cell and organism-based assays have been demonstrated with this method including biocompatibility, addition and removal of reagents/cells, and retrieval of samples for downstream analysis. Fluidic-walled chambers offer excellent optical clarity making them ideal for imaging for single organism/cell experiments. The simplicity of the technique eliminates the need for expensive equipment, clean rooms and expertise to create arrays of hundreds to thousands of fluidic chambers on a single 6-cm cell culture dish.