A lab-on-a-chip is a device that integrates one or several laboratory functions on a single chip of only millimeters to a few square centimeters to achieve automation and high-throughput screening. They deal with the handling of extremely small fluid volumes down to less than pico liters. Lab-on-a-chip technology may soon become an important part of efforts to improve global health, particularly through the development of point-of-care testing devices.
In countries with few healthcare resources, infectious diseases that would be treatable in a developed nation are often deadly. In some cases poor healthcare clinics have the drugs to treat a certain illness, however, they lack the diagnostic tools to identify patients who should receive the drugs. Many researchers believe that Lab-on-a-chip technology may be the key to powerful new diagnostic instruments. The goal of researchers is to create microfluidic chips that will allow healthcare providers in poorly equipped clinics to perform multiple diagnostic tests such as immunoassays and nucleic acid assays with no laboratory support.
Now, researchers from Rutgers University have developed a breakthrough device that can significantly reduce the cost of sophisticated lab tests for medical disorders and diseases, such as HIV, Lyme disease and syphilis. The team state that the new device uses miniaturized channels and valves to replace ‘benchtop’ assays, tests that require large samples of blood or other fluids and expensive chemicals that lab technicians manually mix in trays of tubes or plastic plates with cup-like depressions. The study is published in the journal Lab on a Chip.
Previous studies show that animal research on central nervous system disorders, such as spinal cord injury and Parkinson’s disease, have been limited because researchers could not extract sufficient cerebrospinal fluid to perform conventional assays. A great deal of research has been hindered because in many cases one is not able to extract enough fluid. In the current study the lab state that the discovery could also lead to more comprehensive research on autoimmune joint diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis through animal studies. They go on to add that the amount of joint fluid and spinal fluid used by their assay is minuscule.
In the current study the lab-on-chip device, which employs microfluidics technology, along with making tests more affordable for patients and researchers, opens doors for new research because of its capability to perform complex analyses using 90 percent less sample fluid than needed in conventional tests. Results show that the breakthrough is cheaper, requiring one-tenth of the chemicals used in a conventional multiplex immunoassay, which can cost as much as $1500. Additionally, data findings show that the device automates much of the skilled labour involved in performing tests and the results are as sensitive and accurate as the standard benchtop assay.
The team surmise that they have combined several capabilities for the first time in the device they’ve dubbed ‘ELISA-on-a-chip’, for enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay. They go on to conclude that a single device analyzes 32 samples at once and can measure widely varying concentrations of as many as six proteins in a sample. For the future the researchers are exploring the commercial potential of their technology.