There is a great need for techniques which enable reproducible separation of extracellular vesicles (EVs) from biofluids with high recovery, purity and throughput. The development of new techniques for isolation of EVs from minute sample volumes is instrumental in enabling EV-based biomarker profiling in large biobank cohorts and paves the way to improved diagnostic profiles in precision medicine. Recent advances in microfluidics-based devices offer a toolbox for separating EVs from small sample volumes. Microfluidic devices that have been used in EV isolation utilise different fundamental principles and rely largely on benefits of scaling laws as the biofluid processing is miniaturised to chip level. Here, we review the progress in the practicality and performance of both passive devices (such as mechanical filtering and hydrodynamic focusing) and active devices (using magnetic, electric or acoustic fields). As it stands, many microfluidic devices isolate intact EV populations at higher purities than centrifugation, precipitation or size-exclusion chromatography. However, this comes at a cost.
Lund University researchers address challenges (in particular low throughput, clogging risks and ability to process biofluids) and highlight the need for more improvements in microfluidic devices. Finally, they conclude that there is a need to refine and standardise these lab-on-a-chip techniques to meet the growing interest in the diagnostic and therapeutic value of purified EVs.