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12 Aug 2011

“Labs on a Chip”

Community, Healthcare, Technology No Comments

Detecting Diseases in the Field

Can the most modern of technologies help solve the health woes in the poorest countries in the world? Some biomedical engineers say yes. They are designing diagnostic laboratories that fit on something as small as a credit card, and give results in minutes instead of hours or days. These devices are sometimes referred to as a “lab on a chip.” To use them, all you need to do is obtain a drop of someone’s blood.

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“The drop of blood goes into the chip, and you wait about 15 minutes, and you will get the results,” says Samuel Sia, a professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University in New York. Inside the chip are tiny channels that expose the blood to chemicals that can detect diseases. If a disease is present, a dark line will appear in a window on the chip. You can read the results by eye, or if you want to be more precise, you can use a simple reader.
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“You don’t need an expensive microscope or something with lasers to look at it — it’s something you can build with components from RadioShack if you want,” he says.
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In the current issue of Nature Medicine, Sia and his colleagues describe a chip that can detect the presence of both the AIDS virus and syphilis in someone’s blood. Tests in Rwanda showed they could detect these diseases nearly 99 percent of the time.
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“You really want high sensitivity because if you want to have a test be used as a screening test … you don’t want to miss people who can possibly have the disease,” says Sia.
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Listen to the full story: NPR Labs on a Chip

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