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European Biopharmaceutical Review

Microfluidics: Just a Drop in the Ocean?

Géraldine Andrieux-Gustin at Yole Développement charts microfluidics’ route to achieving its potential in the life science market

Microfluidics is an enabling technology with tremendous potential in many application fields. It adds value by providing key solutions required by the growing diagnostic market. This article presents an overview of microfluidic technologies and analyses factors that are currently driving businesses to success.

MICROFLUIDIC TECHNOLOGIES

Semiconductor lines were first used in the early development of microfluidic components on silicon as well as on glass. Since the 1990s polymer microtechnologies have emerged as a cost effective alternative to glass and silicon. Replication technologies have drastically decreased production costs, thereby opening the market for disposable microfluidic cartridges. Most microfluidic products are based on microchannels structuration; electro wetting on dielectric (EWOD) is a new alternative. The fluid actuation and control are based on electrodes, as illustrated in Figure 2.

MICROFLUIDIC COMPONENTS AND APPLICATION FIELDS

Microfluidic components are diverse and find applications in a broad range of fields – not just life sciences but also inkjet printing, electronics, petrochemistry, aerospace and more. Within life sciences, drug discovery is one of the main microfluidic markets. The competitive advantage of microfluidics is its ability to increase analysis throughput, while reducing reaction volume. Microfluidic components are also sold as cartridges, disks or chips for biological analysis, as illustrated in Figure 3. Microfluidics make it possible to integrate different protocols in one chip, to automate analysis and reduce reaction time. Microfluidics’ predominant area of growth is expected to be within the diagnostic market.

MICROFLUIDICS’DEVELOPMENT STATUS

Microfluidics’ proof-of-concept is validated according to the major companies involved in instrumentation, pharmaceuticals and diagnostics. Manufacturability, which was largely perceived as a technological weakness, has been improved, with production techniques proposed by companies such as 3M, Epigem and Dyconex. Microfluidics and associated business success stories also increase its perceived added value.


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Géraldine Andrieux-Gustin was granted a Master’s degree in Technology and Innovation Management from EM Lyon Business School. She graduated in Biology from the University Paris VI and in Biochemistry (Biotechnology Option) from Carleton University, Canada. She has been involved in micro and nanotechnologies for five years, concentrating on microfluidics.
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