Washington: Scientists in Australia have reported the first use of ordinary cotton thread and sewing needles to literally stitch together a ‘lab-on-a-chip’ device capable of detecting diseases such as kidney failure and diabetes.
The microfluidic analytical device, created by Associate Professor Wei Shen and his research team from Monash University’s Engineering Faculty, works by wicking fluid along the microscopic fibres of cotton thread sown into a polymer film.
The chips shrink room-sized diagnostic testing equipment down to the size of a postage stamp, and promise revolutionary applications in medicine, environmental sensing, and other areas.
The thread’s absorbent property ensures a defined flow for fluids being tested, so complex channels and barriers do not need to be etched into the chip.
Associate Professor Shen said the cotton-based microfluidic system was a novel concept and he hoped further research could lead to the provision of low-cost disease screening and detecting devices to developing countries.
“There are currently promising technologies in the area of paper-based microfluidic diagnostic devices, however the disadvantage is that it requires expensive equipment to fabricate the sensors,” he said.
“The benefit of cotton thread-based devices is that they can be made using simpler equipment, such as sewing machines, so they could be produced in developing regions where high-cost diagnostics are not available and not feasible. We are in the very early days of this research, but we are very excited about where it could lead,” he added.
According to Shen, the low-cost simplicity of the cotton-thread concept belied its power and potential to make a huge difference to healthcare in many parts of the world.
“Communities in the developing world are very vulnerable to diseases, so early detection and screening systems can save many lives,” he said.
“However, many of the current commercial devices are not cheap enough for large-scale health-care projects involving disease detection, so an affordable alternative could make a huge difference,” he added.
“Our results demonstrate that thread is a suitable material for fabricating microfluidic diagnostic devices for monitoring human health, environment and food safety, especially for the population in less-industrialized areas or remote regions,” he said.