Our research addresses the clinical need for rapid diagnostic tests in developing countries and other resource-poor settings where the high cost and lack of laboratory equipment, infrastructure, and skilled personnel present barriers to proper disease prevention and treatment. Microfluidic sensors, also known as lab-on-a-chip devices, offer unique opportunities to address these challenges. Their small feature size (0.1 µm – 100 µm) enables lower consumption of costly reagents, shorter reaction times, and permits multiple laboratory processes to be completed on a single platform. A variety of bioanalytical applications have been demonstrated using microfluidics, including chromatography, DNA sequencing, microarrays, PCR amplification, immunoassays, protein and amino acid analysis, and flow cytometry. However, many of these microfluidic devices require an extensive external infrastructure of laboratory equipment for reagent storage, fluid handling, and detection via fluorescence microscopy that limit their use at the POC or in resource-poor settings. Therefore, a critical need remains for affordable, rapid, and robust diagnostic devices for developing countries.
The long-term goal of our research is to develop simple, patterned microfluidic devices for diagnostic bioassays (whole-cell, protein, and nucleic acid) which are rapid, inexpensive, and can be deployed at the point-of-care. The key focus areas for this research include: (1) alternative microfluidic substrates, such as 2- and 3-D paper networks; (2) the integration of straightforward colorimetric, optical and spectroscopic detection schemes for bioassays and; (3) application of these techniques for disease diagnosis, monitoring of water and food pathogens, and bioterrorism surveillance.