Magnetic Resonance and Microfluidics

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Science  19 Nov 2010:
Vol. 330, Issue 6007, pp. 1056-1058
DOI: 10.1126/science.1198402

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a well-established clinical tool that is routinely used to locate cartilage or ligament damage, cancerous lesions, and blood vessel occlusions; when combined with magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS), it can even map brain function. The image contrast in MRI instruments comes from the change in orientation of the rotational axis (precession) of atomic nuclei in a magnetic field, and can be adjusted to selectively image tissues on the basis of oxygen content, diffusivity, flow velocity, and other properties. Microfluidic “lab-on-a-chip” (LOC) devices represent an emerging technology with potential applications in medical diagnostics. These devices flow samples (which often consist of suspensions of cells) and reagents through miniaturized chemical reactors, and are typically fabricated via lithographic methods similar to those used in microelectronics. Although in principle, MRI should be the ideal tool for monitoring reactions on LOC devices, in practice this turns out to be notoriously difficult because of limitations in sensitivity and resolution. On page 1078 of this issue, Bajaj et al. (1) present an ingenious method that allows sensitive MRI measurements on an LOC device by recording magnetic resonance signals from the spent fluid that exits the device.