Analysis of biological material for diagnostic or research purposes typically involves optical measurements on liquid or liquid-containing samples. Optofluidics emphasizes the miniaturization of both the optical and sample handling components of an analytical instrument, resulting in fully miniaturized and optimized devices to aid with the revolution in personalized medicine.
The strong desire for developing miniaturized bioanalytic devices and instruments requires integrating optical elements and biological fluids on the same chip-scale system. Optofluidics is a new and dynamic research field that addresses this challenge at the interface of photonics, microfluidics, and the life sciences.
In their article in Nanophotonics, the authors review the state of the art in optofluidic research with emphasis on applications in bioanalysis. It emphasizes approaches that rely on optical waveguides to control the flow of light on a chip, representing the most advanced level of integration between optics and fluidics.
The field initially focused on novel demonstrations building chip-based photonic devices such as optical switches or light sources by incorporating non-solid media such as liquids and gases. Since the latter can be replaced easily, this approach added the new ability of reconfiguring an optical device on the fly.
Nowadays, research focuses increasingly on ever closer connections between optical devices and biological substances. Optofluidic approaches have been pushing the performance limits in bioanalysis, e.g in terms of sensitivity and portability, satisfying many of the key requirements for point-of-care devices. For example, single DNA molecules can now be routinely detected on thumbnail-sized silicon chips using off-the shelf fiber optic equipment.
The full integration of sensing and sample preparation steps in a single system is now taking center stage, be it by building a modular system composed of chips optimized for each purpose, or by developing interfaces with a full-fledged instrument such as a smartphone.
Numerous examples are provided that illustrate how the requirements for bioanalysis instruments are increasingly being met by the symbiotic integration of novel photonic capabilities in a miniaturized system. The article provides an outlook on opportunities for further integration and the emerging commercialization of proven optofluidic approaches to biological and chemical sensing. At the same time, new research ideas for uniting photonics and microfluidic are coming to the fore, ensuring lasting vibrancy and excitement.
Optofluidic approaches have been pushing the performance limits in bioanalysis, e.g in terms of sensitivity and portability, satisfying many of the key requirements for point-of-care devices. Their adoption into commercially available products is well under way.
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