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Advanced and versatile PRInting platform for the next generation of active Microfluidic dEvices

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - PRIME (Advanced and versatile PRInting platform for the next generation of active Microfluidic dEvices)

Reporting period: 2019-05-01 to 2020-04-30

Microfluidic devices manipulate small amounts of fluid enabling cost-effective and high throughput analytical assays. Progress in Microfluidics has impact in areas such as biomedicine, biological studies or diagnostics. Despite this potential, the microfluidics market growth is limited by the complexity and elevated prices of the large-scale off-chip equipment needed and its operational cost. PRIME aims to implement and integrate smart materials-based valves and pumps in a microfluidic chip. Besides printing will be used to produce new ultra-sensitive and selective sensors embedded in the chip and readable with light. The final device will be remotely addressed and read using simple photonic elements.

PRIME aims to go beyond the state-of-the-art generating a platform to create a new generation of active microfluidic chips effectively changing the established paradigm. PRIME will develop a radically new platform that: i) integrates all the required responsive materials and elements in the chip, effectively providing it with all the fluidic and sensing functions, ii) uses compatible materials and manufacturing technologies making future industrial production viable and cost-effective, iii) allows to implement with extensive freedom of design a plethora of new smart-integrated and easy-to-operate microfluidic chips.
The PRIME project work plan involves 3 technical Work Packages (WPs) designed to facilitate the accomplishment of the project objective. First, WP1 focuses in the development of the materials needed to generate the fluidic and sensing components of the microfluidic devices; in WP2, the developed materials and manufacturing techniques, will constitute the basis to create and integrate the fluidic and sensing functions into a microfluidic chip. With all the toolbox in place, the PRIME technology will be validated, in WP3, not started yet. Besides the technical WPs (1 to 3), the project has a WP4 devoted to dissemination, exploitation and communication activities to ensure project impact and a WP5 for management and coordination.

During the first reporting period, several sets of materials have been developed within WP1: On one side, materials with mechanical response have been explored to create active elements with a well-defined mechanical response considering their integration in microfluidic devices. Work in this direction carried out during the first year has explored the chemistry and polymer structure seeking for their appropriate manufacturing and their suitable mechanical properties. Adequate mechanical response has been generated with some of these materials. On the other side, the design and synthesis of new sensing materials and their processing have been undertaken during the first year. Besides, protocols for their biofunctionalization have been created and optimized to implement ultrasensitive and selective biosensors.

Also, during this first reporting period, WP2 has started having as objective the implementation of actuating and sensing functions and their integration in an active microfluidic chip. On one side, first valve designs have been introduced. Modelling tools have been set and applied on these designs. First initial actuation experiments have been carried out. Also, in this WP2, new biosensor architectures have been envisioned.

Regarding WP3, on the validation of the PRIME technology, this will start in month 22 (February 2021) of the project and will rely on materials, methodologies and results of previous WPs.

In WP4, regarding the proper communication and dissemination of the project and its results, in order to promote actions and results in a strategic and effective way, 3 documents of work have been generated during the 1st year of the project, all dealing with setting up processes valuable to follow the goals defined throughout the project‘s life time. The objective of dissemination and communication of results has been addressed for example by setting up the project’s website and the Communication and Dissemination strategy, both leading to initial communication actions to promote the project itself. Furthermore, appropriate means in order to be able to disseminate results of the project, were defined for the later stages of the project. The objective of ensuring the efficient management of data was directly addressed by creating a data management plan, describing the data management life cycle within the framework of PRIME, defining a repository for underlying research data. Regarding IPR and exploitation of results, several exploitable results have been identified in the course of the first year of the project and a patent application has been filed in June 2020. Initial possible paths of exploitation are being considered for the identified innovations.

Concerning WP5 on management, this has facilitated a smooth running of project activities ensuring timely achievement of objectives and deliverables. For example, a Consortium Agreement has been signed between the partners. Internal procedures have been established for the correct submission of deliverables, document templates, an intranet, as well as control meetings for the follow-up of the different work-packages. Two annual meetings and a mid-term meeting have been celebrated so far, with corresponding minutes. Finally, a continuous interaction with the REA has been constant and fluent through the Communication Centre of the Participation Portal.
The standard in microfluidics is a passive microfluidic chip using bulky external equipment to perform liquid control and manipulation functions. For detection, also external complex and expensive equipment, making the cost of microfluidics platforms expensive and operation complex.

The vision of the PRIME technology overcomes all these limitations through the use of smart and nano- materials, advanced manufacturing as well as concepts that will enable integration of all the fluidic and sensing functions into a single device, leading to a radically new generation of microfluidic systems.

This will also narrow the gap between microfluidic technology and non-specialized end-users favouring spreading and penetration of microfluidics to diverse application fields ranging from biological basic research and drug testing studies in the biomedical field to environmental, food and water assays.