Lab-on-a-Chip to Make Disease Testing Cheaper and Easier

October 27, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Laboratory samples for medical testing and diagnosis. Test tubes.
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The breakthrough device reduces costs of sophisticated lab tests for diseases like HIV, Lyme disease, and syphilis, using 90 percent less sample fluid.

Engineers at Rutgers University have developed a breakthrough device, Lab-on-a-Chip, that will open new doors for patients and researchers alike. Testing for diseases and disorders will be easier than ever before — not to mention cheaper.

Lab-on-a-chip technology aims to replace “benchtop” assays, the current testing method that requires large samples of blood or other fluids as well as expensive chemicals. Lab technicians usually mix the bodily fluid samples and chemicals in trays of tubes, but Lab-on-a-Chip would have tiny channels and valves on the device, enabling labs to scale down on all the clutter.

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The device is only three-inches long and one-inch wide, but it uses 90 percent less sample fluid than a traditional test. It also requires less of the costly chemicals — for example, the chemicals used in a traditional multiplex immunoassay can cost up to $1500, but Lab-on-a-chip only needs one-tenth that amount. Additionally, the device automates a lot of the skilled labor needed for the traditional methods, so researchers can focus on making new discoveries about the diseases and disorders rather than spending time performing the tests.

In a press release, Martin Yarmush, Distinguished Professor of biomedical engineering at Rutgers University, said, “With our technology, researchers will be able to perform large-scale controlled studies with comparable accuracy to conventional assays.” He assures that the results from the Lab-on-a-Chip technology are as sensitive and accurate as the standard benchtop assay.

Since the traditional assay method required so much fluid, at times research was hindered because scientists couldn’t extract the amount of blood or other bodily fluids they needed. For example, research on central nervous system disorders, like spinal cord injury and Parkinson’s disease, was always curbed due to a lack of sufficient cerebrospinal fluid.

Lab-on-a-chip technology could lead to more comprehensive research on autoimmune joint diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, since researchers have only been able to collect a small amount of joint fluid in previous testing. Essentially, the new device will scale down all of the materials needed to conduct research on a number of diseases and disorders, permitting researchers to take their work to the next level.

Microfluidics technology could be the next big breakthrough in discovering cures for a variety of diseases that were limited by traditional research methods. The whole concept is downright impressive — the future of medicine will transfer costly, complicated lab work to the surface of a little chip.

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