Sensitive optical detection of clinically relevant biomarkers in affordable microfluidic devices: Overcoming substrate diffusion limitations

Ana I. Barbosa, Ana P. Castanheira, Nuno M. Reis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (SciVal)
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One of the biggest challenges in miniaturization of optical immunoassays is the short light path distance of microchannels/microcapillaries. Protein biomarkers are often presented in circulating blood in the picomolar-femtomolar range, requiring exceptional levels of sensitivity that cannot be met with traditional chromogenic substrates and without sophisticated, bulky detection systems. This study discloses an effective strategy for increasing the sensitivity and shorten the total test time for sandwich ELISAs in microfluidic devices optically interrogated, based on enhancing enzymatic amplification. We found that activity of Horseradish Peroxidase (HRP) in mesofluidic systems is highly limited by diffusion, therefore increasing the concentration of enzymatic substrate in these systems does not translate into an enhancement in enzymatic conversation. The opposite happens in microfluidic systems due to short diffusion distances, however increased concentration of the second enzymatic substrate, hydrogen peroxide (H 2O 2), leads to enzyme inhibition as herein reported. Consequently, we found that the molar ratio of o-phenylenediamine (OPD) to hydrogen peroxide from commercially substrate formulations is not suitable for miniaturized systems. Sandwich ELISA quantitation of a cancer biomarker PSA and human cytokine IL-1β in fluoropolymer microfluidic strips revealed over one order of magnitude increase in sensitivity and 10-fold decrease in incubation time by simply changing the molar ratio of OPD:H 2O 2 from 1:3 to 1:1 and increasing OPD concentration from 1 to 4 mg/ml. This enhancement in enzymatic amplification offers finally the sensitivity required for optical interrogation of novel portable and affordable microfluidic devices with inexpensive and ubiquitous smartphones and flatbed scanners.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)313-320
Number of pages8
JournalSensors and Actuators B: Chemical
Issue numberSupplement C
Early online date21 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018


  • Biomarker
  • Colorimetric
  • Enzymatic amplification
  • HRP
  • Immunoassay
  • Microfluidics
  • OPD

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Instrumentation
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Surfaces, Coatings and Films
  • Metals and Alloys
  • Electrical and Electronic Engineering
  • Materials Chemistry


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