Scientists invent lab-on-a-chip for fast, cheap blood tests

The new lab-on-a-chip technology would make blood testing much easier, cheaper and effective.

Washington: In what may transform the way
pathologists carry out blood tests, scientists have developed
a new cheap and portable device which can provide results in
less than 30 minutes by just using a pinprick of blood.

Engineers at the University of Rhode Island who are
behind the invention said the device would make blood testing
much easier, cheaper and effective.

"This development is a big step in point-of-care
diagnostics, where testing can be performed in a clinic, in a
doctor`s office, or right at home," said Mohammad Faghri, a
URI professor and the lead researcher.

"No longer will patients have to wait anxiously for
several days for their test results. They can have their blood
tested when they walk into the doctor`s office and the results
will be ready before they leave."

With the new lab-on-a-chip technology, a drop of blood is
placed on a plastic polymer cartridge smaller than a credit
card and inserted into a shoebox-sized biosensor containing a
miniature spectrometer and piezoelectric micro-pump.

The blood travels through the cartridge in tiny channels
500 microns wide to a detection site where it reacts with
preloaded reagents enabling the sensor to detect certain
biomarkers of disease, the University said in a statement.

Compared to similar devices in development elsewhere, the
URI system is much smaller, more portable, requires a smaller
blood sample, and is less expensive. While the sensor costs
about USD 3,200, each test costs just USD 1.50, which is the
cost for the plastic cartridge and reagents.

The first cartridges the researchers developed focus on
the detection of C-reactive proteins (CRP) in the blood, a
preferred method for helping doctors assess the risk of
cardiovascular and peripheral vascular diseases.

From 2002 to 2004 (the only years for which data are
available), the number of CRP tests paid for by Medicare
tripled from 145,000 to 454,000, and it is estimated that
those numbers have quadrupled since then.

Faghri said that additional cartridges can be designed to
detect biomarkers of other diseases. The researchers are
already working to engineer the device to detect levels of the
beta amyloid protein that can be used as a predictor of
Alzheimer`s disease. The device can also be engineered to
detect virulent pathogens, including HIV, hepatitis B and H1N1
(swine) flu.

The next generation of the device will incorporate a
hand-held sensor that will reduce manufacturing costs. Faghri
also envisions a further miniaturisation of the invention that
can be adapted as a smartphone application.

By embedding the biosensor in the cartridge and using the
computer power of the phone, as well as its wireless
communication capabilities, Faghri believes that patients may
be able to conduct the tests themselves and have the results
transmitted immediately to their doctor`s office via their


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