The FET Innovation LAUNCHPAD PILOC is a EU-funded project for the development of a novel technology for the seamless integration of valves, pumps, injectors made with piezoelectric thin films onto polymer microfluidic chips, thus leading to the next generation low-cost and high performance LOC (Lab-On-Chip systems).
Microfluidics technology has revolutionised key applications like drug development, stem cell research, microbiological analysis, medical diagnosis, personalised medicine and chemical biology, just to name but a few. Microfluidic systems are ever more present in chemistry and biochemistry labs, driving the development of new components and processes for the injection, mixing, pumping, and storing of fluids in the microchannels.
As such, the progress of microfluidics technology has opened a completely new market for Lab-On-Chip systems (LOC), which are miniaturised devices intended to replicate experiments normally carried out in a real lab, drastically improving cost efficiency, parallelization, ergonomics, diagnostic speed and sensitivity.
Using the piezoelectric effect in microfluidics is not recent. There are several publications in which a piezoelectric bulk ceramic is glued to a microfluidic chip.1 The problem with such an approach is that the performance of the system is not reproducible and depends on the gluing quality. In addition, bulk ceramics need high driving voltages, which is a critical disadvantage compared to non-piezo-based components. Both above-mentioned limitations will be resolved by using piezoelectric thin films deposited directly on microfluidic chips.
The BioWings FET-Open project focuses on the development of biocompatible electrostrictive materials for biomedical applications, through the use of ceria based thin films to be used in both the low and high frequency range. The project pursues the integration of piezoelectric thin films on glass substrates, which would represent a breakthrough in many applications. During the project activity, through a “market pull” approach starting from real needs expressed by the stakeholders we have approached, it emerged that a huge market opportunity exists for the integration of piezoelectric materials on polymers, which would open up a completely new avenue for advanced low-cost microfluidic chips.
This represents an original result owned by Piemacs, which will not be directly developed within the BioWings project as out of the project scope. At the same time, if the technological and business viability are confirmed in this Launchpad project, Piemacs will move on with the technology development and fundraising together with Day One, creating a new market opportunity for the company’s.
This FET-Launchpad is conceived as the “Design Thinking” phase of a new product development, where users’ and stakeholders’ needs are mapped and used as a blueprint for defining the characteristics to be included in the innovation to be developed. To this scope, the R&D activity will be seen as a validation stage of the market research carried out, which on one side will allow us to see first-hand what the users really want, and on the other will allow to establish direct link with supply chain partners.
This will be crucial to validate feasibility of the PiLOC concept, at the same time collecting data to decide our market positioning and business model (contract manufacturer vs chip manufacturer). At the end of the project, Piemacs and Day One expect to have a market validated feasibility study and a business plan, which will help them raise the necessary funds to move on with the development pipeline.