Automating multi-step paper-based assays using integrated layering of reagents

Lab Chip. 2017 Feb 28;17(5):943-950. doi: 10.1039/c6lc01485b.


We describe a versatile and simple method to perform sequential reactions on paper analytical devices by stacking dry pullulan films on paper, where each film contains one or more reagents or acts as a delay layer. Exposing the films to an aqueous solution of the analyte leads to sequential dissolution of the films in a temporally controlled manner followed by diffusive mixing of the reagents, so that sequential reactions can be performed. The films can be easily arranged for lateral flow assays or for spot tests (reactions take place sequentially in the z-direction). We have tested the general feasibility of the approach using three different model systems to demonstrate different capabilities: 1) pH ramping from low to high and high to low to demonstrate timing control; 2) rapid ready-to-use two-step Simon's assays on paper for detection of drugs of abuse utilizing a 2-layer stack containing two different reagents to demonstrate the ability to perform assays in the z-direction; and 3) sequential cell lysing and colorimetric detection of an intracellular bacterial enzyme, to demonstrate the ability of the method to perform sample preparation and analysis in the form of a spot assay. Overall, these studies demonstrate the potential of stacked pullulan films as useful components to enable multi-step assays on simple paper-based devices.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Diethylamines / analysis
  • Equipment Design
  • Escherichia coli / isolation & purification
  • Glucans / chemistry*
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Indicators and Reagents / chemistry
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / instrumentation*
  • Microfluidic Analytical Techniques / methods*
  • Paper*


  • Diethylamines
  • Glucans
  • Indicators and Reagents
  • pullulan
  • diethylamine