An ultra-thin highly flexible microfluidic device for blood oxygenation
Many neonates who are born premature suffer from respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) for which mechanical ventilation and an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) device are used in treatment. However, the use of these invasive techniques results in higher risk of complications like bronchopulmonary dysplasia or requires surgery to gain vascular access. An alternative biomimetic approach is to use the umbilical cord as a vascular access and to connect a passive device to the baby that functions like a placenta. This concept, known as the artificial placenta, provides enough oxygenation and causes minimal distress or complications. Herein, we have developed a new artificial placenta-type microfluidic blood oxygenator (APMBO) with high gas exchange, low priming volume and low hydraulic resistance such that it can be operated only by pressure differential provided by the baby's heart. Mimicking the placenta, we have made our new device ultra-thin and flexible so that it can be folded into a desired shape without losing its capability for gas exchange and achieve a compact form factor. The ability to fold allowed optimization of connectors and reduced the overall priming volume to the sub-milliliter range while achieving a high oxygen uptake which would be sufficient for preterm neonates with a birth-weight of around 0.5 kg.