Last week I wrote about Do-It-Yourself (DIY) microfluidics and mentioned the overlap with theDIY Bio movement. However, the potential applications for DIY (or low-cost) microfluidics techniques are broader than DIY Bio alone.
The truth is, everyone wants to save money, not just amateur biologists tinkering at home. Even top labs at MIT often perform research with a low-cost DIY-style approach — in a sense, all cutting-edge engineering research is do-it-yourself, but not all of it is low cost. Using inexpensive, easily available tools and materials can be attractive to new labs with limited resources (e.g., in a university or a startup). If each prototype is cheap, you can afford to quickly try out many crazy ideas; if each prototype is expensive, more time and effort are needed to increase the chance of success for each attempt.
While a cheap prototype may not necessarily translate into a cheaply manufacturable device, starting with inexpensive materials as part of a DIY-style solution may not be a bad place to start. For groups like IIH, starting from inexpensive, accessible materials (typical of DIY) may help further their goal of producing low-cost devices for developing countries.
A couple more links to DIY microfluidics resources:
The Biomicrofluidics journal has a new Fabrication and Laboratory Methods section, including a free article on how to use PDMS.
Also check out the DIYbio Google group forum for microfluidics discussions.