Lab-on-a-chip Systems: “The design primarily plays a functional role”

Photo: Daniel Mark

Daniel Mark; © private

Design combines aesthetics with functionality. In microsystems technology, functional design plays a very important role. For lab-on-a-chip systems for instance, reliable specimen analysis is far more important than how great a device looks.

Daniel Mark of the Lab-on-a-Chip Design and Foundry Service at the Institute for Micro and Information Technology of the Hahn-Schickard Society, prepares such systems for medical technology. At, he talks about their functionality and applications.
: Mr. Mark, who do you address with the Design and Foundry Service?

Daniel Mark: Our customers come primarily from the fields of diagnostics and analytics. We develop so-called lab-on-a-chip systems for them. Our customers are then able to offer their end users on the spot solutions pertaining to analytics or diagnostics. In which fields of medical technology do you work in?

Mark: Most of our customers come from the point-of-care diagnostics market. This field makes disease diagnostics directly at the doctor’s office possible – outside the laboratory, quickly and without specimen transport and skilled personnel. For instance, we are working on projects to diagnose infections in newborns such as neonatal sepsis or respiratory diseases. However, we also have projects and inquiries from water analytics and food safety. What services do you offer your customers?

Mark: Usually, our customers have an existing laboratory test that consists of a number of action steps such as mixing reagents, centrifugation, measuring and dividing into subsets. We want to automate these steps for the customer and package it into a portable mini laboratory. Next, the lab process is converted into a unit step sequence. We convert this sequence of unit operations over to a microfluidic layout, this meaning into a plastic structure made of microchannels and chambers, which exactly represents these action steps. In other words, we convert a manual process into a microfluidic design, meaning plenty of chambers and tiny channels and a control protocol. The individual action steps then run automatically.

We use the centrifugal force on a rotating disk as a processing device and propelling force. In a device that is similar to a CD player that rotates the CD with the microchannels and chambers, the raw process with the liquids is being mapped. The liquids on the CD are thus automatically being measured, mixed and subdivided.

Photo: disc in a device

In a device that is similar to a CD player that rotates the CD with the microchannels and chambers, the raw process with the liquids is being mapped;
© IMTEK & HSG-IMIT, Bernd Müller

We design a CD in which a laboratory process can run automatically. We also offer prototype manufacturing. For mass production however, we refer to external partners for now, who have the corresponding expertise in manufacturing plastic and synthetic material. What meaning does the word design have in the development of microtechnology?

Mark: The design that plays a role in the development of lab-on-a-chip systems is primarily functional. Aesthetics are secondary. What we mean by design is the layout and circuitry of microchannels and chambers in a laboratory test CD. The structures have a computer-aided design and are manufactured and tested on functionality in a test medium. The design then determines whether the prototype subsequently works and the laboratory process is successfully mapped.

Aesthetic factors such as customer logos or inscriptions that are helpful for operation are initially secondary features. Usually we incorporate them into the system for the customer without being asked. This is always well received. What goals are you pursuing in the Lab-on-a-Chip Design and Foundry Service in the future?

Mark: So far, we are mostly working in pre-competitive development. Thus, our goal is to track product development from its conception to its use. In addition, we want to increasingly approach diagnostics and analytics companies and support them with lab-on-a-chip systems, on the spot analytics and diagnostics.

The interview was conducted by Michalina Chrzanowska and translated by Elena O'Meara.