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Engineering Researchers Announce Smallest-ever 3D-Printed Fluid Circuit—and It’s Economical

By Maryland Today Staff

UMD engineers have created the tiniest-known 3D-printed fluid circuit element, an important step in developing implantable biomedical devices that release therapies directly into the body.

The microfluidic diode, one-tenth the width of a human hair, ensures fluids move in only a single direction. In addition, it breaks previous cost and complexity barriers in 3D nanoprinting for more affordable, faster personalized medicine and drug delivery.

“Just as shrinking electric circuits revolutionized the field of electronics, the ability to dramatically reduce the size of 3D-printed microfluidic circuitry sets the stage for a new era in fields like pharmaceutical screening, medical diagnostics and microrobotics,” said Ryan Sochol, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering.

Sochol, along with graduate students Andrew Lamont and Abdullah Alsharhan, outlined their new strategy in a paper published today in the open-access journal Nature: Scientific Reports.

Scientists have recently tapped into the emerging technology of 3D nanoprinting to build medical devices and create “organ-on-a-chip” systems. But the cost and complexity of pushing pharmaceuticals, nutrients and other fluids into such small environments without leakage made the technology impractical for most applications requiring precise fluid control.

What sets the Clark School team’s strategy apart is its use of a process known as sol-gel, which allowed them to anchor their diode to the walls of a microscale channel printed with a common polymer. The diode’s minute architecture was then printed directly inside of the channel—layer by layer, from the top of the channel down.

The result is a fully sealed, 3D microfluidic diode created at a fraction of the cost and in less time than previous approaches.

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