A 3D printed 'lab on a chip' could soon be used to conduct laboratory-scale blood testing that’s affordable, accessible and done in an instant. A scientific team at the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) are working to perfect a fabrication process that will deliver an ID card-sized device that can perform multiple tests with a just few drops of blood. Currently, the device, created as a prototype in UTS’s Protospace 3D printing facilities, allows researchers to conduct multiple blood tests using only a few drops of blood. It promises less of a burden to patients requiring blood testing.

Associate Professor Dongbin Wei, from UTS (School of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering), and Professor Dr G.L. Samuel from the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM), are devising ways to make that a reality, by creating a device that is a one-stop-shop device for testing blood. Dr Samuel emphasized that researchers call it a ‘lab on a chip' since it’s not a single test device, it’s a whole laboratory. Therefore, this is possible to quickly input the sample and then get the results right there and then to assess the patient’s condition.

At just the size of an ID card, the chip filters blood droplets into several chambers, in which each separate test is conducted simultaneously. The chip is designed to be disposable, making it an affordable and accessible option for many. What is more, it should prove particularly useful in the case of epidemic diseases.

Dr Samuel explained that another advantage is that if some sort of plague occurs, and if someone wants to quickly check what the disease is without risk of it spreading, it saves person having to bring blood samples to a city to test and see the results.

Current limitations in technology have made building such devices challenging to implement practically. The demanding micro-additive manufacturing process is something most 3D printers are yet to achieve. Yet Dr Samuel and Associate Professor Wei are in the process of working around that.

Associate Professor Wei said that most 3D printers now can’t deal with very fine details in the fabrication process. That’s why researchers proposed a collaborative research project looking into micro-additive manufacturing. If this research is successful, it can be used to make these concepts accessible, to bring them to life.

At present, the micro-electrical-mechanical technology is being used for making the moulds for biomedical devices. Dr Samuel added it involves many steps of production and the component parts need to be made separately and bonded. But this is possible to print the device in one step. It would be fast and the cost would be much cheaper.