“We’ll have to wait for the lab results to come back.” Chances are good that if you’ve had any contact with the healthcare system beyond simple wellness checkups, you’ve heard this line before. Perhaps even more than you care to remember. Complex chemical analysis of fluid and tissue samples are one of our most powerful tools for accurate diagnosis of many diseases and conditions. The process can be time-consuming and expensive, requiring the use of sophisticated lab equipment. Or maybe all you need is a standard ink jet printer.
That’s the premise of research by scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine. They have succeeded in creating a lab-on-a-chip using simple, inexpensive materials. A silicone block contains microfluidic pathways and chambers. This sits on top of a reusable electronic strip that is printed on a plastic substrate using commercially available conductive inks on a standard office ink jet printer. There is no need for expensive clean room fabrication lines, or sophisticated training for operators to make these devices. It takes just 20 minutes to create one of these devices. The single lab can analyze samples for multiple types of cells, without the need for fluorescent or magnetic labels. An electrical charge applied to the electronic strip causes components to separate in the various chambers which can then be measured.
This technology could lower the cost of a variety of diagnostic analyses, as well as promote more research into a variety of diseases. The device could even be used for low-cost genomic sequencing, which could hasten the broad adoption of personalized medicine. It could also bring sophisticated analysis to under-developed regions at an affordable cost.