Microfluidics is a field in which very small volumes of fluids are manipulated with microfabricated structures. At this very small scale, liquids exhibit a low Reynolds number, which is a parameter that describes whether the liquid moves in ordered sheets (as is the case in microfluidics) or if the flow is more chaotic. Because the fluid flow profiles in microfluidic devices can be precisely controlled, they can be engineered to carry out chemical reactions and mixing/separation of particles. Applications are manifold; some include assay development, cell sorting, in vitro modeling, and drug screening.
We are currently developing microfluidics to purify and analyze biomarkers for the early detection of pancreatic cancer. Because pancreatic cancer often does not present with symptoms until it is too advanced to treat, it is crucial to diagnose early. Unfortunately the current method of diagnosing pancreatic cancer is not trivial: an invasive biopsy of the tissue has to be examined by a pathologist. We take an alternative approach by using microfluidics to isolateand detect biomarkers directly from the blood in a non-invasive and cheap manner.