A proof of concept of a novel air microfluidics-enabled soft robotic sleeve to enable lymphedema treatment is presented. Compression sleeves represent the current, suboptimal standard of care, and stationary pumps assist with lymph drainage; however, effective systems that are truly wearable while performing daily activities are very scarce. This problematic trade-off between performance and wearability requires a new solution, which is addressed by an innovative microfluidic device. Its novelty lies in the use of light, small, and inexpensive air microfluidic chips (35 × 20 × 5 mm3 in size) that bring three major advantages compared to their traditional counterparts. First, each chip is designed with 16 fluidic channels with a cross-sectional area varying from 0.04 to 1 mm2, providing sequential inflation and uniform deflation capability to eight air bladders, thereby producing intentional gradient compression to the arm to facilitate lymph fluid circulation. The design is derived from the fundamentals of microfluidics, in particular, hydraulic resistance and paths of least resistance. Second, the air microfluidic chip enables miniaturization of at least eight bulky energy-consuming valves to two miniature solenoid valves for control increasing wearability. Third, the air microfluidic chip has no moving parts, which reduces the noise and energy needed. The cost, simplicity, and scale-up potential of developing methods for making the system are also detailed. The sequential inflation, uniform deflation, and pressure gradient are demonstrated, and the resulted compression and internal air bladder pressure were evaluated. This air microfluidics-enabled sleeve presents tremendous potential toward future improvements in self-care lymphedema management.

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