Frugal Science: Improving Health Across the Globe

Troy Brown, RN


June 15, 2017

In This Article

'Lab on a Chip'

A different group of researchers from the Stanford Genome Technology Center at Stanford University has developed what is being called a "lab on a chip."[18]

The two-part system uses a combination of microfluidics, electronics, and inkjet printing technology. The first part of the system is a clear microfluidic chamber that houses cells and a reusable electronic strip. The second part is a common inkjet printer that uses commercially available conductive nanoparticle ink to print the electronic strip onto a flexible sheet of polyester[18] (Figure 5).

Figure 5. Dr Esfandyarpour holding the reusable electronic strip component of the lab-on-a-chip system. Image courtesy of Rahim Esfandyarpour, PhD

Lead author Rahim Esfandyarpour, PhD, an engineering research associate in the Genome Technology Center at Stanford University, California, and colleagues described their invention in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.[19] "The main motivation behind this project was to export technology and to develop [a] low cost platform for early diagnosis of the diseases in [the] developing world, where resources are limited," said Dr Esfandyarpour.

The multifunction platform "allows users to analyze different cell types without using fluorescent or magnetic labels that are typically required to track cells. Instead, the chip separates cells based on their intrinsic electrical properties: When an electric potential is applied across the inkjet-printed strip, cells loaded into the microfluidic chamber get pulled in different directions depending on their 'polarizability' in a process called dielectrophoresis," according to a Stanford news release.[18] "This label-free method to analyze cells greatly improves precision and cuts lengthy labeling processes."

"Our platform is designed to perform multiple functions, including label-free single bioparticle trapping; label-free single-cell quantification and enumeration through impedance microcytometry; and high speed and label-free cellular manipulation, concentration, sorting, patterning, and selective analytical separation and isolation of the cells of interest," said Dr Esfandyarpour.[18]

The chip can analyze small-volume samples for various assays. The researchers were able to use it to capture single cells from a mix, isolate rare cells, and count cells on the basis of cell types. Each of the individual technologies that perform those functions would cost orders of magnitude more than the multifunctional biochips, which cost $0.01 to make. For example, a standalone flow cytometer machine used to sort and count cells costs $100,000 without accounting for operational costs.[18]

The technology could enhance diagnostic capabilities everywhere, but would probably have the most impact in developing countries that have fewer resources and where survival rates for such diseases as breast cancer, malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV are much lower than in developed countries.[18]

"Enabling early detection of diseases is one of the greatest opportunities we have for developing effective treatments," Dr Esfandyarpour, an electrical engineer by training, said in the news release. "Maybe $1 in the US doesn't count that much, but somewhere in the developing world, it's a lot of money."[18]

In addition, this technology could reduce the need for high-cost laboratory equipment.

"We designed it to eliminate the need for clean-room facilities and trained personnel to fabricate such a device," Dr Esfandyarpour explained in the news release. One chip can be produced in about 20 minutes, he said.[18]

"Although we have very promising results, we expect a bit more work toward commercialization of the solution," said Dr Esfandyarpour.[18]


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