Washing and Enrichment of Micro-Particles Encapsulated in Droplets

Researchers developed microfluidic technology for the washing and enrichment of in-droplet micro-particles. They presented the technology using a microfluidic chip based on surface acoustic wave (SAW)-driven acoustic radiation force (ARF).

The team demonstrated the first instance of acoustic in-droplet micro-particle washing with a particle recovery rate of approximately 90 percent. They further extended the applicability of the proposed method to in-droplet particle enrichment with the unprecedented abilities to increase the in-droplet particle quantity and exchange the droplet dispersed phase.

This proposed method enabled on-chip, label-free, continuous, and selective in-droplet micro-particle manipulation. The team demonstrated the first instance of in-droplet micro-particle washing between two types of alternating droplets in a simple microchannel, proving that the method can increase the particle quantity, which has not been achieved by previously reported methods.

The study aimed to develop an in-droplet micro-particle washing and enrichment method based on SAW-driven ARF. When a droplet containing particles is exposed to an acoustic field, both the droplet and suspended particles experience ARF arising from inhomogeneous wave scattering at the liquid-liquid and liquid-solid interfaces. Unlike previous in-droplet particle manipulation methods, this method allows simultaneous and precise control over the droplets and suspended particles. Moreover, the proposed acoustic method does not require labelled particles, such as magnetic particles, and employs a simple microchannel geometry.

Microfluidic sample washing has emerged as an alternative to centrifugation because the limitations of centrifugation-based washing methods can be addressed using continuous washing processes. It also has considerable potential and importance in a variety of applications such as single-cell/particle assays, high-throughput screening of rare samples, and cell culture medium exchange.

Compared to continuous flow-based microfluidic methods, droplet-based microfluidic sample washing has been rarely explored due to technological difficulties. On-chip, in-droplet sample washing requires sample transfer across the droplet interface composed of two immiscible fluids. This process involves simultaneous and precise control over the encapsulated sample and droplet interface during the medium exchange of the in-droplet sample.

Sample encapsulation within individual microscale droplets offers isolated microenvironments for the samples. Experimental uncertainties due to cross-contamination and Taylor dispersion between multiple reagents can be reduced in droplet-based microfluidics.

This is the first research achievement made by the Acousto-Microfluidics Research Center for Next-Generation Healthcare, the cross-generation collaborative lab KAIST opened in May. This novel approach pairs senior and junior faculty members for sustaining the research legacy even after the senior researcher retires. The research center, which paired Chair Professor Hyung Jin Sung and Professors Hyoungsoo Kim and Yeunwoo Cho, made a breakthrough in microfluidics along with PhD candidate Jinsoo Park. The study was featured as the cover of Lab on a Chip published by Royal Society of Chemistry.

Jinsoo Park, first author of the study, believes this technology will may serve as an in-droplet sample preparation platform with in-line integration of other droplet microfluidic components. Chair Professor Sung said, “The proposed acoustic method will offer new perspectives on sample washing and enrichment by performing the operation in microscale droplets.”

Washing and Enrichment of Micro-Particles Encapsulated in Droplets 이미지1

Figure 1. (a) A microfluidic device for in-droplet micro-particle washing and enrichment; (b) alternatingly produced droplets of two kinds at a double T-junction; (c) a droplet and encapsulated micro-particles exposed to surface acoustic wave-driven acoustic radiation force; (d-h) sequential processes of in-droplet micro-particle washing and enrichment operation.


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