While droplet-based microfluidics is a powerful technique with transformative applications, most devices are passively operated and thus have limited real-time control over droplet contents. In this report, an automated droplet-based microfluidic device with pneumatic pumps and salt water electrodes was developed to generate and coalesce up to six aqueous-in-oil droplets (2.77 nL each). Custom control software combined six droplets drawn from any of four inlet reservoirs. Using our μChopper method for lock-in fluorescence detection, we first accomplished continuous linear calibration and quantified an unknown sample. Analyte-independent signal drifts and even an abrupt decrease in excitation light intensity were corrected in real-time. The system was then validated with homogeneous insulin immunoassays that showed a nonlinear response. On-chip droplet merging with antibody-oligonucleotide (Ab-oligo) probes, insulin standards, and buffer permitted the real-time calibration and correction of large signal drifts. Full calibrations (LODconc
= 2 ng mL−1
= 300 pM; LODamt
= 5 amol) required <1 min with merely 13.85 nL of Ab-oligo reagents, giving cost-savings 160-fold over the standard well-plate format while also automating the workflow. This proof-of-concept device—effectively a microfluidic digital-to-analog converter—is readily scalable to more droplets, and it is well-suited for the real-time automation of bioassays that call for expensive reagents.
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