September 27, 2011

2 Min Read
Vacuum-Like Microfluidic Device Assists in Cellular Exploration

For the first time, researchers have fabricated microfluidic quadropoles -- a tiny device that acts as a microscopic jet vacuum cleaner -- in a lab setting, creating a tool that may be used to study a variety of cellular processes such as cancer cell formation. Quadropoles are paired objects, with two positive and two negative objects arranged in a square, which create a force field between them. Magnetic quadropoles focus beams of charged particles in particle accelerators, and electrostatic quadrupoles are used in radio antennae, but quadropoles existing in fluids have only been theoretically described for decades until a device was fabricated from a team of developers from McGill University (Montreal, Canada) and the Ecole Polytechnique of Montreal.

In theis microfluidic quadropole, fluorescent beads are used to trace the path of the flow much as iron filings can trace the path of the magnetic field around a magnet.

To create the device, four holes are etched into a 1-mm square silicone tip. The plus holes, two apertures, emit microscopic jets of fluid onto the surface below, while the minus holes act as drains to suck the fluid immediately back into the device. Behaving like a water jet vacuum cleaner, the device floats over the surface of a slice of living tissue or a layer of cells until it reaches a desired target, and then sends out a stream of fluid with the necessary chemicals to stimulate, kill, probe or detach the cells.

In addition to studying cancer cell formation, this technology could also be used to see how neurons align themselves in the developing brain, or to create a gradient with smoothly varying chemical concentrations that could study how bacteria and other cells move around in the body. The work from the researchers was detailed in an article in the journal Nature Communications.

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