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A 3D-Printed Clinical Device Intended to Detect Biomarkers of Preterm Birth

The 3D-Printed device is a microchip electrophoresis device that can sensitively detect three serum biomarkers of Preterm birth (PTB).

The leading complication of pregnancy is birth before the 37th week of gestation. 1 out of 10 in the world is facing the PTB. If doctors had a simple, accurate and inexpensive way to identify women at risk for the condition, they could develop better prevention strategies.

Preterm infants can suffer complications such as neurological, respiratory and cardiac problems and, in some cases, even death.

Scientists have previously identified biomarker peptides and proteins in maternal serum that can fairly accurately predict PTB at 28 weeks of gestation.

Prior research used a 2D microfluidic device to separate PTB biomarkers by electrophoresis. But making these devices was slow, error-prone and costly.

Researchers demonstrated for the first time the creation of microchip electrophoresis devices with ∼50 μm cross-sectional dimensions by stereolithographic 3D printing and their applications. They printed their device onto a glass slide using a 3D printer with a custom resin as the ink.

They determined that the device current was linear with applied potential up to 800 V (620 V/cm).

To achieve the best separation of three peptide biomarkers by electrophoresis, they optimized the device design, as well as parameters such as applied voltages and buffer identity and composition.

The group optimised device and separation conditions using fluorescently labelled amino acids as a model system and compared the performance in their 3D printed microfluidic devices to that in other device materials commonly used for microchip electrophoresis analysis.

The 3D-printed microchip could detect the three PTB biomarkers in the picomolar to low nanomolar range.

The researchers note that although these detection limits are still higher than the PTB risk levels for the biomarkers, they could increase the sensitivity by adding a component to the device that concentrates the peptides.

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