An EU project has developed a 'health chip' that allows a number of conditions to be diagnosed instantly and automatically in the doctor's office.
The MicroActive chip 'contains a complete laboratory', say its developers, and can check for a number of different diseases caused by bacteria or viruses, as well as various types of cancer.
"This little chip is capable of carrying out the same processes as a large laboratory, and not only does it perform them faster, but the results are also far more accurate," say Liv Furuberg and Michal Mielnik of the SINTEF team.
"The doctor simply inserts the card into a little machine, adds a few drop of the sample taken from the patient via a tube in the cardholder, and out come the results."
The health chip can analyse blood or cells for eight different diseases, all of which are identified by means of special biomarkers that are found in the blood sample. These 'labels' may be proteins that either ought or ought not to be there, DNA fragments or enzymes.
The chip is engraved with a number of very narrow channels that contain chemicals and enzymes in the correct proportions for each individual analysis. When the patient's sample has been drawn into the channels, the reagants are mixed.
Once the biomarkers have been found, they can be read off in a spectrophotometer, an optical instrument in which the RNA molecules in different markers emit specific fluorescent signals.
“SINTEF's lab-on-a-chip projects have shown that it is possible to perform rapid, straightforward diagnostic analyses with the aid of microchips, and we are now working on several different types of chip, including a protein analysis chip for acute inflammations,” says Liv Furuberg.