WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue University researchers have developed a biochip that measures the electrical activities of cells and is capable of obtaining 60 times more data in just one reading than is possible with current technology.
In the near term, the biochip could speed scientific research, which could accelerate drug development for muscle and nerve disorders like epilepsy and help create more productive crop varieties.
"Instead of doing one experiment per day, as is often the case, this technology is automated and capable of performing hundreds of experiments in one day," said Marshall Porterfield, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering who leads the team developing the chip.
The device works by measuring the concentration of ions — tiny charged particles — as they enter and exit cells. The chip can record these concentrations in up to 16 living cells temporarily sealed within fluid-filled pores in the microchip. With four electrodes per cell, the chip delivers 64 simultaneous, continuous sources of data.
This additional data allows for a deeper understanding of cellular activity compared to current technology, which measures only one point outside one cell and cannot record simultaneously, Porterfield said. The chip also directly records ion concentrations without harming the cells, whereas present methods cannot directly detect specific ions, and cells being studied typically are destroyed in the process, he said. There are several advantages to retaining live cells, he said, such as being able to conduct additional tests or monitor them as they grow.
One (I think mistaken) argument made against the practicality of pursuing Aubrey de Grey's SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) proposal to reverse aging is that the problems we need to solve in order to reverse aging won't become solvable in the next few decades. Specifically, one group of critics recently argued that a rate of biotechnological advance that is faster than the semiconductor industry's Moore's Law would be required in order to solve the problems needed to reverse the aging process within the lifetimes of people currently alive. But I think these critics are missing an obvious reason why biotechnology can advance more rapidly than computer semiconductor technology.
The biochip reported above is able to speed up the collection of cellular metabolic information with a leap forward that is many times greater than the rate at which Intel co-founder Gordon Moore' predicted that computers would become faster. It is very important to notice why this advance was possible: The advances made in the semiconductor industry that allow manipulations at very small scales that took decades to achieve are now being harnessed to make sensors and other automated instrumentation for biological experimentation. The development of biochips which manipulate and measure matter on a small scale can therefore happen much more rapidly than semiconductor advances.
In a nutshell, we have the technology to do lots of small scale manipulations and measurements. Scientists and engineers who apply that technology to biological problems can therefore make huge leaps in the development of capabilities to study and manipulate biological systems.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2006 October 21 10:06 PM Biotech Advance Rates|