High-throughput flow alignment of barcoded hydrogel microparticles†
Suspension (particle-based) arrays offer several advantages over conventional planar arrays in the detection and quantification of biomolecules, including the use of smaller sample volumes, more favorable probe-target binding kinetics, and rapid probe-set modification. We present a microfluidic system for the rapid alignment of multifunctional hydrogel microparticles designed to bear one or several biomolecule probe regions, as well as a graphical code to identify the embedded probes. Using high-speed imaging, we have developed and optimized a flow-through system that (1) allows for a high particle throughput, (2) ensures proper particle alignment for decoding and target quantification, and (3) can be reliably operated continuously without clogging. A tapered channel flanked by side focusing streams is used to orient the flexible, tablet-shaped particles into a well-ordered flow in the center of the channel. The effects of channel geometry, particle geometry, particle composition, particle loading density, and barcode design are explored to determine the best combination for eventual use in biological assays. Particles in the optimized system move at velocities of ∼50 cm s−1 and with throughputs of ∼40 particles s−1. Simple physical models and CFD simulations have been used to investigate flow behavior in the device.