Complex microfluidic biological and chemical processes require modern fluid delivery solutions

The rise of microfluidics, driven largely by advances in microchip technology, found an important pairing from an early stage with biomedical research. In the 1980’s, researchers were increasingly interested in miniaturizing and simplifying cellular processes and reactions in order to gain better insight into mechanisms of action. As fabrication of microfluidic devices evolved, microfluidic chips became ever more capable for complex biological applications. Today, Lab-on-a-Chip applications span a broad range of diverse research fields. Modern systems require precision fluid flow, fluid exchange, and custom functionalities – demanding performance features that only high-quality precision syringe pumps can deliver.

Advantages of Lab-on-a-Chip

Miniaturization of cell biological and biomolecular experimentation led to a paradigm shift towards microplate technologies. Microplates offer multiplexing abilities, reduced volumes and reagent consumption, and broad compatibility across an array of instrument platforms. A big advantage with these technologies was the reduction in volume requirements, which among other benefits translates to fluids that can be easily exchanged with greater precision.

Lab-on-a-Chip applications brought volume requirements from the microliter scale down to nanoliter scale, boosting precision and speed while reducing error and costs. Perhaps another paradigm shift, these new capabilities add value in the range of experimental designs that can be implemented and the speed or throughput that these processes can be run. Massively parallel reactions can be performed, such as deep DNA sequencing, with levels of accuracy, precision, and throughput previously unattainable.

Requirements for fluid delivery

With these new applications and performance requirements has come the need for high-performance fluid delivery systems, which must achieve flow rates, fluid volumes, and fluid exchanges, among other functions, with the highest levels of precision and confidence. In any given Lab-on-a-Chip system, inaccuracies in flow rates or volumes can lead to skewed and often uninterpretable results -- as such the entire experimental process hinges upon the integrity of fluid delivery. As the most common technology for this task, high-quality precision syringe pumps must deliver reliable high-fidelity results while maintaining customization features that allow fluid exchange, push-pull, and oscillation functionalities, along with the ability to scale up in volume if required.

The true flow rate of a system depends on the setup and the elasticity of the components, which impact the lag or settling time needed to achieve precise fluid flow. While the microfluidic chip may have complex characteristics thereby complicating flow measurements, the syringe pump must have well defined and reliable flow rates in order to minimize experimental variability. For this reason, only pumps that can produce the necessary flow rate metrics are suitable.
Precision buffer switching or washout are required for the most sensitive applications, such as single molecule step-wise reactions. The same is true for more complex systems which may involve multiple changes in buffer type, flow rates, and flow patterns. Syringe pump systems which offer precision operation and versatility provide a distinct advantage in producing the most conclusive experimental results.

Adaptability is another key parameter. Experimentation almost always involves modifying the hardware of a system to better suit a given application, or to align with a new or adapted application. Single duty instruments are not appropriate in this regard and represent a losing investment in time and money. Syringe pump systems the deliver performance and the adaptive ability to evolve with the laboratory equate to a much better return on investment. Along these lines, experimental systems may grow in scale and complexity and, therefore, smart product lines should include several devices built upon similar technology geared for these dynamics.

Lab-on-a-Chip technologies and applications

The DNA and RNA sequencing industry has reaped immense benefits from semiconductor and microfluidic technologies. The utility of scaling down volumes and scaling up complexity, throughput, and sensitivity has led to leaps in technology and in understanding the molecular underpinnings of life. Lab-on-a-Chip technologies are and have been at the center of this science, and all commercially successful technologies have roots in the experimental pilot stage. A good example is the Ion Torrent DNA sequencing technology. It was developed by academic researchers using a completely unique approach of measuring DNA nucleotide interactions by the output of H+ as a reaction product – a technology that would have been unrealized without Lab-on-a-Chip concepts and components.

Cell Biology is another area in which Lab-on-a-Chip applications are growing rapidly in scope and versatility. Microfluidic channel diameters are on the order of cells, making this approach readily feasible for uses ranging from single cell drug screening to high-throughput cell sorting and other applications. Key factors in this domain have included the use of ultra fast valve switching and optical detection, as well as highly accurate and precise fluid delivery, in order to match the requirements of the cell and the speed of the application. Advances in cell biological experimentation will continue to benefit from high performance syringe pumps and other integral components.

Chemical process research is yet another domain where Lab-on-a-Chip and precision syringe pump systems have enabled superior efficiency in terms of reaction yield, speed, costs, and safety as well.

Technology outlook

The next stage in the current technology evolution is novel Organ-on-a-Chip applications. Basically, a complex miniature replica of an organ system, these micro engineered systems can shed light on the intricate interplay underlying cell-cell communication and cell signalling – processes that previously were complicated by the myriad of intrinsic factors in native tissue. This domain has great potential for pharmaceutical development, cancer research, and many other fields of application. The quality and performance of the system components will almost certainly dictate progress along these fronts.

This article was written by LabX and published in conjunction with Chemyx.

View Chemyx listings at

Chemyx Inc. develops and manufactures microsyringe pump and high-pressure syringe pumps for a variety of R&D and manufacturing applications in biotech, pharma, chemical and oil & gas. Widely recognized for fluidic precision and innovative technology, the company is one of the market leaders in precision dosing, microfluidics, mass spec calibration and in related applications. Chemyx syringe pumps are designed with advanced, highly durable materials that provide extreme laboratory precision at the best value to our customers. For more specific application requirements, Chemyx scientists also build custom units and can provide additional OEM manufacturing services that expand our customers’ offerings in the market.

A leader in innovation, Chemyx was the first company to develop the next-generation syringe pump with an interactive LCD interface and integrated syringe database. Today, Chemyx continues to push advancements in the laboratory services industry to facilitate and further the research of the world’s scientists, academics, and manufacturing companies.

Visit the Chemyx website for more information