Graduate and engineer collaborate on 3D printing to advance microfluidic systems | VTX

In this project, Schultz and his company will create the microfluidic devices. Rafael Davalos, L. Preston Wade Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, will design and test the devices in his lab, the Bioelectromechanical Systems Laboratory.

Davalos and his students will design the microfluidic devices for a number of applications, ranging from rare cell isolation to modeling the blood-brain barrier.

Josie Duncan, a PhD student in the Davalos lab and originally from Charlotte, will participate in the research to test the properties of devices for manipulating particles using electrical frequencies. Microfluidics allows researchers to test things at the cellular scale, which increases precision and miniaturizes the process, resulting in a smaller footprint and cheaper cost, Duncan said.

“I’m thrilled to be among the pioneers of a new 3D printing method designed specifically for microfluidics,” said Duncan, who earned his master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Virginia Tech. “I’m hopeful for the innovative designs we can create now that 3D structures are feasible.”

Edward Jacobs, of Virginia Beach, Virginia, also a doctoral student in Davalos’ lab, will test the blood-brain barrier. This semi-permeable boundary of endothelial cells presents a significant hurdle in the development of drugs to treat brain cancer. Together, Jacobs and Davalos aim to demonstrate the ability to incorporate human brain endothelial cells — monolayer cells that line blood vessels and regulate exchange between vessels and surrounding tissues — into a microfluidic device to simulate the barrier.

“Having diagnostic or electrical devices embedded in 3D printed microfluidic devices has the potential to expand the possibilities of chip design and, in turn, open doors to new applications previously not possible in 2D structures” , Davalos said. “Changing the way these tools are created could open up new avenues of research and new discoveries.”

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