Hot embossed polyethylene through-hole chips for bead-based microfluidicdevices
Over the past decade, there has been a growth of interest in the translation of microfluidic systems into real-world clinical practice, especially for use in point-of-care or near patient settings. While initial fabrication advances in microfluidics involved mainly the etching of silicon and glass, the economics of scaling of these materials is not amendable for point-of-care usage where single-test applications forces cost considerations to be kept low and throughput high. As such, a materials base more consistent with point-of-care needs is required. In this manuscript, the fabrication of a hot embossed, through-hole low-density polyethylene ensembles derived from an anisotropically etched silicon wafer is discussed. This semi-opaque polymer that can be easily sterilized and recycled provides low background noise for fluorescence measurements and yields more affordable cost than other thermoplastics commonly used for microfluidic applications such as cyclic olefin copolymer (COC). To fabrication through-hole microchips from this alternative material for microfluidics, a fabrication technique that uses a high-temperature, high-pressure resistant mold is described. This aluminum-based epoxy mold, serving as the positive master mold for embossing, is casted over etched arrays of pyramidal pits in a silicon wafer. Methods of surface treatment of the wafer prior to casting and PDMS casting of the epoxy are discussed to preserve the silicon wafer for future use. Changes in the thickness of polyethylene are observed for varying embossing temperatures. The methodology described herein can quickly fabricate 20 disposable, single use chips in less than 30 minutes with the ability to scale up 4x by using multiple molds simultaneously. When coupled as a platform supporting porous bead sensors, as in the recently developed Programmable Bio-Nano-Chip, this bead chip system can achieve limits of detection, for the cardiac biomarker C-reactive protein, of 0.3 ng/mL, thereby demonstrating the approach is compatible with high performance, real-world clinical measurements in the context of point-of-care testing.