Mini-Labs for Rapid Diagnostic Tests Will Soon Be Mass-Produced in Europe

JOANNEUM RESEARCH coordinates an international consortium that conducts extensive research into the next generation of lab-on-a-chip systems. So-called mini-labs using foil-based microfluidics for rapid diagnostics kits will soon be ready for large-scale production, with possible application in COVID-19 detection.


There is great potential for microfluidic lab-on-a-chip systems, particularly in medicine, pharmaceuticals, production and analysis. The H2020 project, “NextGenMicrofluidics”, was granted to a consortium coordinated by JOANNEUM RESEARCH, an Austrian Research and Technology organisation. The partners of NextGenMicrofluidics operate an Open Innovation Test Bed, a new EU format similar to pilot lines. “One advantage of lab-on-a-chip systems is that they allow the automated implementation of complex analyses even in small laboratories with limited technical equipment,” said Martin Smolka, Project Manager, JOANNEUM RESEARCH. “This joint project accelerates the implementation of roll-to-roll technologies for the high-throughput production of microfluidic systems. We will then produce microfluidic components no longer as single pieces, but on large foils using stamping, printing and lamination processes. This works in a similar way to newspaper printing. As a result, we will be heading towards an unrivalled level in the production capacity of flexible lab-on-a-chip systems, so-called labs-on-a-foil”, stated Smolka.

NextGenMicrofluidics is addressing this challenge by establishing an Open Innovation Test Bed for the development and production of lab-on-a-foil systems on large area polymer foils. This will enable mass production of several million lab-on-a-foil systems per year, important, for example, for the production of rapid tests for medical diagnosis. Smolka explained some technical details: “Injection molding and wafer-based glass and silicon processing complement the platform as well as other technologies such as high-resolution printing of biomolecules in the form of the world’s first roll-to-roll microarray spotter for foil-based microfluidics. These unique facilities are combined in the Open Innovation Test Bed.”

The Open Innovation Test Bed offers all services required for the development and production of microfluidic systems. These services range from design through simulation, material development and biofunctionalisation to production as well as quality assurance.

As a one-stop shop for this unique technology portfolio, the Open Innovation Test Bed offers its customers the advantage of a fast and cost-effective transfer of new diagnostic or analytical concepts into ready-for-market products. Thus, with microfluidic systems novel, pioneering innovations can be attained at competitive prices.

Within the framework of the project, the consortium offers funded innovation projects, in which future customers will be able to contract for product development. Parallel to the technical development, the Open Innovation Test Bed will provide its customers with access to venture capital.


Point-of-Care-Diagnostic for SARS-CoV -2


The technology validation of the Open Innovation Test Bed is established on pre-defined case studies from complementary markets, ranging from biosensor development through molecular diagnostics and smart phone-supported home diagnostics to pharmaceutical tests and sensors for monitoring bioprocesses.

Particular attention is paid to lab-on-a-foil systems in medical diagnostics, especially in the area of patient-related rapid diagnostics, so-called point-of-care diagnostics and their use in the current COVID-19 crisis. By developing and upscaling new rapid diagnostic tests for SARS-CoV-2, the consortium aims to contribute to solving this crisis. A holistic approach is being pursued, which includes rapid diagnostic tests for acute infections as well as for immunity after a past infection. The aim is to develop systems for the point-of-care diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 as well as the corresponding immune status and to manufacture more than one million tests per month in Europe. This high-throughput production is essential, especially for rapid diagnostic tests in times of a pandemic, so that a large number of tests can be used decentrally as diagnostic tools, e.g. by the family doctor, and provide test results quickly and efficiently.

Through the collaboration of interdisciplinary competencies in NextGenMicrofluidics, we have the unique opportunity of optimizing manufacturing of our lab-on-a-chip technology platform

– Jörg Nestler, CEO, BiFlow Systems

For this purpose, the tests will be implemented in sensor platforms already commercialized by the project partners BiFlow® and GENSPEED® and the manufacturing processes of the required lab-on-a-foil systems will be scaled-up. The tests will be developed and manufactured in Europe and will therefore be available immediately for an acute crisis in the future.

“Through the collaboration of interdisciplinary competencies in NextGenMicrofluidics, we have the unique opportunity of optimizing manufacturing of our lab-on-a-chip technology platform,” said Jörg Nestler, CEO, BiFlow Systems. He is confident that the further development of his technology platform for the direct detection of SARS-CoV-2 will contribute to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Max Sonnleitner, CEO of GENSPEED Biotech, is enthusiastic about the advantages of these novel production processes: “We will have available the lab-on-a-foil systems we need in large quantities at low prices. This will allow us to deliver large quantities of rapid antibody tests for SARS-CoV-2 quickly”.


About NextGenMicrofluidics


The project combines the competences of 21 companies and research organizations along the entire value chain and offers services for the development and production of customized microfluidic lab-on-a-foil systems for companies – from start-ups to large industry. This includes a unique continuous roll-to-roll production line for high-throughput manufacturing of foil-based microfluidics.

The project is coordinated by Martin Smolka, JOANNEUM RESEARCH. The companies and research organizations forming the consortium are: JOANNEUM RESEARCH Forschungsgesellschaft mbH, BiFlow Systems GmbH, BioNanoNet Forschungsgesellschaft mbH, bionic surface technologies GmbH, Condensia Química S.A., Erba Technologies Austria GmbH, Fundación TECNALIA Research and Innovation,,GENSPEED Biotech GmbH, ibidi GmbH, Biomedical Research Foundation of the Academy of Athens, Infineon Technologies Austria AG, Inmold A/S, Innovative Technologies in biological System, S.L., Micronit Microtechnologies B.V., micro resist technology – Gesellschaft für chemische Materialien spezieller Photoresistsysteme mbH, NATURSTOFF-TECHNIK GMBH, RESCOLL – Société de Recherche, SCIENION AG, University of Split, Technische Universität Graz und temicon GmbH

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under Grant Agreement No. 862092 with a total volume of almost 15 million Euros for the next 4 years.

Prospects of Lab-on-a-Chip Research: Dr. Martin Smolka in an Interview with Ärzte Exklusiv

Dr. Martin Smolka, project manager of the H2020 project NextGenMicrofluidics, spoke exclusively to Ärzte Exklusiv about the role of lab-on-a-chip systems in medical diagnostics and outlined the potential of a future lab-on-a-chip system.


“One advantage of lab-on-a-chip systems is that they allow the automated implementation of complex analyses even in small laboratories with relatively limited technical equipment,” said Smolka in the interview. These systems thus enable so-called point-of-care diagnostics. “Meanwhile, compact and portable devices are available, which enables decentral modern diagnostics, for example at the doctor’s office. So the medical samples don’t need to be send to laboratories,” said Smolka. Hence, the results are available after hours or even minutes rather than days, which is a decisive advantage.

Previous research work has already led to products for DNA-based diagnostics. Dr. Smolka explained in the interview: “Lab-on-a-Chip systems enable the rapid detection of characteristic sections of the genome of pathogens. The lab-on-a-chip takes up the sample liquid to be examined in a microchannel network with a detection chamber; in this chamber, DNA sequences of the test molecules are identified which, for example, indicate the antibiotic resistance of the tested bacteria.” The commercial lab-on-a-chip-based test platform developed by the Upper Austrian company GENSPEED Biotech, a partner of JOANNEUM RESEARCH, thus enables the detection of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The results are available in less than 100 minutes – an enormous time saving compared to laboratory measurements, which take 24 to 72 hours.

Lab-on-a-Chip systems enable the rapid detection of characteristic sections of the genome of pathogens.

– Dr. Martin Smolka, Project Manager, JOANNEUM RESEARCH

For a broad commercial success of these novel chips, work is currently underway on a production platform for lab-on-a-chip diagnostics. The aim of this platform is to produce the chips on polymer films using continuous roll-to-roll processes, thus enabling parallel processing of many chips. Consequently, the chips no longer have to be processed as individual parts, but can be produced in large quantities. “We are currently pursuing this further development of this production platform within the framework of national and EU-funded projects. Recently, we received the grant for the EU project NextGenMicrofluidics, coordinated by us, with 21 European partners and total funding of approximately 15 million euros,” Smolka states.

When asked what he would develop with unlimited research resources, Dr. Smolka said that a very useful project would be the development of a lab-on-a-chip system that would allow general practitioners to identify infectious disease pathogens within minutes. “This is a task we would very much like to focus on,” said Smolka.

More information on this topic will be available in an EPIC Online Technology Meeting on biosensors. In this meeting, the speakers, one of them Dr. Martin Smolka, will discuss the technologies required for the production of biosensors and lab-on-a-chip systems. An indirect participation in this meeting as listener is possible LIVE via the EPICPhotonics YouTube channel.




EPIC Online Technology Meeting on Biosensors: