Focusing analytes from 50 μl into 500 pL: On-chip focusing from large sample volumes using isotachophoresis
The use of on-chip isotachophoresis assays for diagnostic applications is often limited by the small volumes of standard microfluidic channels. Overcoming this limitation is particularly important for detection of 'discrete' biological targets (such as bacteria) at low concentrations, where the volume of processed liquid in a standard microchannel might not contain any targets. We present a novel microfluidic chip that enables ITP focusing of target analytes from initial sample volumes of 50 μL into a concentrated zone with a volume of 500 pL, corresponding to a 100,000-fold increase in mean concentration, and a 300,000-fold increase in peak concentration. We present design considerations for limiting sample dispersion in such large-volume focusing (LVF) chips and discuss the trade-off between assay time and Joule heating, which ultimately governs the scalability of LVF designs. Finally, we demonstrate a 100-fold improvement of ITP focusing performance in the LVF chip as compared to conventional microchannels, and apply this enhancement to achieve highly sensitive detection of both molecular targets (DNA, down to 10 fM) and whole bacteria (down to 100 cfu/mL).