The team conducts research in microfluidics. (Credit: Virginia Tech)

A collaborative project to 3D print medical devices could open doors to the development of microfluidic devices for a number of applications, ranging from rare cell isolation to modeling of the blood-brain barrier.

Microfluidic devices are like the test tubes of the digital age, facilitating the development of next-generation therapeutics and diagnostic breakthroughs, according to Phase Inc., a 3D-printing company based in Charlotte, NC, and collaborator on this project.

The team will test device properties that enable particles to be manipulated using electrical frequencies. Microfluidics allows researchers to test things on the cell-scale, which increases the accuracy and miniaturizes the process, resulting in a smaller footprint and cheaper cost.

They will also test the blood-brain barrier. This semipermeable border of endothelial cells presents a significant hurdle in developing drugs to treat brain cancer. The team aims to demonstrate the ability to incorporate a human brain’s endothelial cells — single-layer cells that line blood vessels and regulate exchanges between the vessels and surrounding tissue – into a microfluidic device to simulate the barrier.