Ever shrinking “lab-on-a-…” technologies, a boon to medical laboratories and anatomic pathologists in remote resource-strapped regions, also have a place in modern labs
Researchers took another leap forward in reducing the size of clinical laboratory diagnostic tests and observational tools. This demonstration involved lab-on-a-fiber technology and showed promise in both monitoring anatomic pathology biomarkers in vivo and supplementing the abilities of existing lab-on-a-chip and microfluidic devices.
Lab-on-a-Fiber Next Technological Step Toward Miniaturization
In 2013, Dark Daily reported on research into an implantable laboratory-on-a-chip (LOC) for monitoring blood chemistry during chemotherapy. It was a major breakthrough at the time, which promised new and powerful tools for cancer treatment regimens.
However, most LOC systems aren’t designed for wet environments. Also, while microfluidics and flexible membranes allow for smaller footprints and tighter placement, they are still invasive in ways that might make patients uncomfortable or make real-world use less than ideal. And, long-term use brings further complications, such as corrosion or foreign-body granulomas.
Thus, lab-on-a-fiber’s ability to function in vivo, is one of the device’s principal advantages, as ExtremeTech noted.
Lab-on-a-fiber technology addresses many concerns. It is small enough to insert directly into organs, muscle mass, or veins when used as biosensors. And the fibers can return a wealth of information by using light and reflection, while allowing for minimal discomfort and precision placement.
The Past and Future of Scaling Clinical Laboratory Testing
Dark Daily has followed these miniaturization trends for years starting with their earliest stages. A detailed timeline of developments can be viewed in “Lab-on-a-Chip Diagnostics: When Will Clinical Laboratories See the Revolution?” from 2016.
Additional Dark Daily “lab-on-a-…” coverage includes:
- IBM Watson Health and Mount Sinai Health System team up to use LOC solutions to separate biomolecules as small as 20nm from samples (See Dark Daily, “IBM and Mount Sinai Researchers Develop Innovative Medical Lab-on-a-Chip Solution,” October 3, 2016); and,
- Lab-on-Skin devices for monitoring biomarkers and electrophysiological signals, providing human-machine interfaces, and facilitating optogenetics (See Dark Daily, “In the Field of Nano-Scale Diagnostics, Many Researchers Are Developing ‘Lab-on-Skin’ Technologies That Can Monitor Many Clinical Laboratory Biomarkers,” January 15, 2015).
In the past year, a myriad of lab-on-a-fiber applications also have received media coverage, including:
- Monitoring living organs and detecting biomarkers (see IEEE Spectrum, “How We’re Shrinking Chemical Labs Onto Optical Fibers”);
- High-sensitivity, rapid detection of tumors and cancer cells during brain surgery (see CTV News, “Fiber-Optic Device Can Detect Stray Cancer Cells and Improve Tumor Removal: Study”); and,
- Diagnosis and monitoring of muscle disorders (see New Atlas, “Fiber Optic Probe Beats a Biopsy for Measuring Muscle Health”).
Developers believe lab-on-a-fiber approaches could offer further adaptability and functionality to other “lab-on-a-…” technologies. For example, as highlighted in Advanced Science News, researchers are employing lab-on-a-fiber technologies to further refine and improve LOC functions and designs.
“As the scientific world moves inexorably to smaller dimensions … The emerging concept of ‘lab‐on‐fiber’ will give the optical fiber platform additional (highly integrated) functionalities,” noted Deepak Uttamchandani, PhD, Vice Dean Research, Faculty of Engineering, and, Robert Blue, PhD, Research Fellow, both at the University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK, in their review paper, “Recent Advances In Optical Fiber Devices for Microfluidics Integration.” The paper, published in the Journal of Biophotonics, examined “the recent emergence of miniaturized optical fiber-based sensing and actuating devices that have been successfully integrated into fluidic microchannels that are part of microfluidic and lab‐on‐chip systems.”
Lab-on-a-Fiber: Another Step Forward or a Major Change?
At each milestone in the scaling of clinical laboratory testing, experts and media outlets predicted the demise of big laboratories and the dawn of a POC-centric testing era. Yet, despite 20-plus years of progress, this has yet to happen.
While it is critical for anatomical pathology leaders and clinical laboratory managers to stay abreast of developments in testing technology, much of the innovation behind lab-on-a-fiber remains strictly in the research realm. Challenges to the commercialization of these new techniques include both physical factors, such as design and manufacture of ready-to-use tests, and regulatory concerns, including FDA clearances and payer approval of new assays and diagnostic procedures.
Until researchers and test manufacturers overcome these hurdles, threats to current standards and workflows are minimal. However, much like the gains in scale realized through incorporating lab-on-a-chip concepts into clinical laboratory testing, the research powering these innovations might prove useful in further improving and expanding medical laboratory testing options.
Lab-on-Fiber Technology: A New Vision for Chemical and Biological Sensing [Full Downloadable PDF]