Microfluidics... In Space?

Radins' microfluidic chip will allow astronauts to test for "blood sugar, liver and kidney function, and more." ( Image source )

Radins' microfluidic chip will allow astronauts to test for "blood sugar, liver and kidney function, and more." (Image source)

What realm of life is safe from microfluidics? Hopefully none, as the technology continues to work its way into our lives. Although few us can say we have been to space, but those astronauts (or cosmonauts) up there now can look forward to a bit more microscale flow in the world.

I recently came across an article at Popular Science (which just happens to be one of my favorite websites) about the European Space Agency (ESA), which is planning on deploying microfluidics-based diagnostics into space. The ESA is working with an Irish company Radisens Diagnostics that will produce the device capable of diagnosing ailments in low gravity. The device will require a drop of blood and will test for “blood sugar, liver and kidney function, and more.” Apparently the company already has a similar device and will make some adjustments to make it space-ready. Like the best things that work in space, the device spins, which likely helps the flow in low gravity. The device is about the size of a matchbox, which must make ESA happy, as space and weight are tightly spent when planning trips to space. This lab-on-a-chip will keep the astronauts safer, as they often have to diagnose and treat themselves while in space. Out of anyone in the world, I'd say they have the greatest point-of-care needs. I wonder what will come first: My trip to space with microfluidics, or microfluidics finally finding its rightful place in our everyday lives.

MicroTAS 2011 Oct 2-6


Tomorrow is the first day of MicroTAS 2011 (Oct 2-6), which is taking place in Seattle, WA this year. When I go to bed tonight, I’ll close my eyes and wish really hard, but I’m afraid I won’t open them to find myself magically transported to Rain City. Unfamiliar with MicroTAS? Let’s start with the name; MicroTAS (µTAS, micro-TAS or micro TAS) stands for micro total analysis system. This is simply another self-describing name for a lab-on-a-chip. A micro TAS should be a micro-sized device that contains all necessary steps to perform analysis of a sample. If you’ve read my other posts, this is nothing new, just a different name. Anyway, MicroTAS is a conference held every year on “Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences.” µTAS is "the premier forum for reporting research results in microfluidics, microfabrication, nanotechnology, integration, materials and surfaces, analysis and synthesis, and detection technologies for life science and chemistry." The conference is in its 15th year and is back in the United States. It takes place every three years in the US and has been in Jeju, South Korea and Groningen, the Netherlands since it was in San Diego in 2008. This year’s conference is chaired by James Landers of the University of Virginia. His lab focuses on micro TAS topics like integrating functionality, fluidic control, genetic analysis and protein and small molecule analysis.

Like I said, I won’t be there, but I’ll still point you towards some key components of the conference, and will hopefully be able to give you some updates after the conference. There are a ton of different programs at MicroTAS 2011, and I invite you to check them out. This year, the conference will be presenting the following awards:

Art in Science Award

Cell Block 9  by Nicholas Gunn

Cell Block 9 by Nicholas Gunn

This is the award I’m most excited about. I think that images of micro-sized structures are really beautiful (with or without artificial colors), and I love to see them get recognition. Last year’s winner of this award was Nicholas Gunn of UC Irvine, and he had his image put on the cover of Lab on a Chip. His image is “a colorized SEM micrograph showing fibroblast cells cultured on microscale pedestals.” The pedestals prevented migration of the fibroblasts while still allowing the exchange of soluble factors. I can’t wait to see this year’s winner, and you can bet that I’ll post it here.