Development of an electrically responsive hydrogel for programmable in situ immobilization within a microfluidic device†
A novel microfluidic channel device with programmable in situ formation of a hydrogel 3D network was designed. A biocompatible hybrid material consisting of iron ion-crosslinked alginate was used as the active porous medium. The sol–gel transition of the alginate was controlled by the oxidation state of Fe ions and regulated by an external electrical signal through an integrated gold plate electrode. The SEM images, FT-IR analysis, and rheological test demonstrated that homogeneous yet programmable hydrogel films were formed. The higher the concentration of the crosslinker (Fe(III)), the smaller the pore and mesh size of the hydrogel. Moreover, the hydrogel thickness and volume were tailored by controlling the deposition time and the strength of electric current density. The as-prepared system was employed as an active medium for immobilization of target molecules, using BSA as a drug-mimicking protein. The reductive potential (activated by switching the current direction) caused dissolution of the hydrogel and consequently the release of BSA and Fe. The diffusion of the entrapped molecules was optimally adjusted by varying the dissolution conditions and the initial formulations. Finally, the altering electrical conditions confirm the programmable nature of the electrically responsive material and highlight its wide-ranging application potential.