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Researchers develop ‘optical lab on a chip’

March 17, 2015

Researcher Examines Specimens Through Microscope

Clinicians have long recognized the potential of integrated medicine, in which different human body systems and clinical disciplines are studied together to understand an individual's total picture of health. With the human genome fully sequenced in the early 2000s, genetic information, such as biomarkers, has entered the mix of data that clinicians can use to understand a whole person.

While advancements have been made continuously to understand the inter-relations of diseases, a new technological breakthrough stands out as a step forward for integrated medicine diagnostics: A newly designed handheld device can quickly analyze up to 170,000 different molecules in a single blood sample. The capabilities of this device, described as an "optical lab on a chip" and developed by researchers from Boston University, UCLA, and Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, are detailed in a new original article in the publication Light Science & Applications.

Life on a chip
The bio-sensing technology in the new device uses changes in intensity of light to do on-chip imaging of a patient's blood sample, as opposed to previous methods that used changes in spectral properties of light, such as wavelength. Former methods also required the use of bulky spectrometers in the process.

Less than 8 cm tall and weighing only 60 grams, the new device is small, inexpensive to make, and far more powerful than traditional capabilities. In one quick sweep, it can simultaneously identify a myriad of different conditions, including for example, Alzheimer's markers, cancer, insulin levels, and certain viruses.

Lead author of the study, Arif E. Cetin of Boston University, explained to Phys.org, "We were looking to build an interface similar to a car's dashboard, which is able to indicate gas and oil levels as well as let you know if your headlights are on or if your engine is working correctly." Hatic Altug, Ph.D., contributing author of the study, continued, "Recent studies have shown that certain illness like cancer or Alzheimer's are better diagnosed and false positive results avoided when several parameters can be analyzed at once."

Pocket genetics
While Cetin noted that the device has further testing to go through before it reaches any kind of wide-scale release, he holds high hopes for the potential to provide quick and accurate patient check-ups. The team plans to collaborate with hospitals to find the best way to use the new technology.