Goal is to Help Physicians Perform More Medical Laboratory Testing in Their Clinics

New microfluidic nanotechnology has the potential to create reliable “mini-labs” that can allow physicians to do many of the same medical laboratory tests in their offices that are currently performed in the today’s more complex clinical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups.

Some experts predict that recent advancements in lab-on-a-chip devices can make it possible for physicians to perform in-office many tests that are the mainstay of the medical laboratory industry, and possibly even produce superior results for a fraction of the cost.

SINTEF scientist Liv Furuberg believes new “health chip” will not be expensive, in spite of its advanced technology. Photo courtesy of Werner Juvik. (Sourced from Science Computing.)

Practical Applications

One company developing just such a product is optimistic about its prospects. “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,” explained Liv Furuberg, a researcher at SINTEF, a Scandinavian-base organization that performs contract research in the areas of health, information technology, and applied chemistry. “The doctor simply inserts the card into a little machine, adds a few drops of the sample taken from the patient via a tube in the cardholder, and out come the results.”

The credit card sized “lab-on-a-chip” was developed during a European Union-funded MicroActive project by a collaborative group of hospitals, labs and research institutes from Germany, Norway and Ireland.

A recent Science Daily article stated that, “This technology reduces a process that typically takes 20 manual steps in a traditional [clinical] laboratory down to just two, and as such it can be carried out by anybody who receives some basic training. Unlike lab-based diagnostics, it does not require expert personnel.”

And according to a Scientific Computing article, “Soon, your family doctor will no longer have to send blood or cancer cell samples to the laboratory. A little chip will provide test results on the spot.”

The article also states that these desktop laboratories “offer all the advantages of traditional molecular analysis with none of the disadvantages. It promises a revolution in diagnostic instrumentation.”

Revolutionary Technology

The so called lab-on-a-chip is not a new technology. Microfluidics, the control of fluids on a sub-millimeter scale, developed into practical applications during the 1980s. It has blossomed into a lab-on-a-chip industry covering everything from bio-technology to astrobiology.

But recent breakthroughs in its use in healthcare indicate that the technology stands poised to revolutionize how physicians go about diagnosing disease. The technology is incorporated into new home-test lab-on-a-chips that Dark Daily covered in “British Researchers Working on a Way to Use Cell Phones to Perform Pathology Tests for STDs.”

NorChip, a Norway-based biotech company that develops biomedical diagnostic kits, plans to mass produce the diagnostic chips and has begun a new 2-year EU project to develop the technology and seek manufacturing partners.

“The ways in which the chip can be used can be extended to enable patients themselves to take samples at home,” said Frank Karlsen, chief scientist at NorChip in the Science Computing article. “Such special sampling systems will be ready for testing within a few years.”

Is this new technology a threat to traditional clinical laboratories? Not likely, because even if lab-on-a-chip technology proves effective for use in physician offices, there will still be a substantial number of pathology laboratory tests that will be best performed in larger centralized clinical laboratories where medical technologists, Ph.D.s, and pathologists with specialized training can oversee both the testing of the specimen, and be available when referring physicians need consultations.

—by Michael McBride

Related Information:

Chip Provides Instant Disease Diagnoses

Cancer Screening Made Simple, Thanks to Micro-Fluidic Technology

Whole Animal Assays Use Lab-On-A-Chip at MIT

British Researchers Working on a Way to Use Cell Phones to Perform Pathology Tests for STDs