July 29, 2008
$10 Microscope On A Chip

Smaller and cheaper is the future of biotechnology.

PASADENA, Calif.--Researchers at the California Institute of Technology have turned science fiction into reality with their development of a super-compact high-resolution microscope, small enough to fit on a finger tip. This "microscopic microscope" operates without lenses but has the magnifying power of a top-quality optical microscope, can be used in the field to analyze blood samples for malaria or check water supplies for giardia and other pathogens, and can be mass-produced for around $10.

"The whole thing is truly compact--it could be put in a cell phone--and it can use just sunlight for illumination, which makes it very appealing for Third-World applications," says Changhuei Yang, assistant professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at Caltech, who developed the device, dubbed an optofluidic microscope, along with his colleagues at Caltech.

The new instrument combines traditional computer-chip technology with microfluidics--the channeling of fluid flow at incredibly small scales. An entire optofluidic microscope chip is about the size of a quarter, although the part of the device that images objects is only the size of Washington's nose on that quarter.

We will someday have cheap automated medical instrumentation installed in our bathroom sinks, toilets, and bed stands, watches, glasses, and other things in our environment so that we get constantly, rapidly, but unobtrusively tested far more extensively than a hospital can today. Our home computers will let us know when we have a medical problem that needs attention.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 July 29 11:54 PM  Biotech Assay Tools

jos said at July 30, 2008 6:18 AM:

i think the holy grail of home testing would be programable chemical computer on a chip(or chemical turing machine) , that can reuesed many times(or a single use will be very economical ) , and can test both genetic and protein contents.

when we have this technology and we combine it with painless blood taking(there's some micro needle being developed , taking blood without pain , copying the needle of the moskito), i can see this technology used at home .

then you can take a blood test once a day theoreticlly , and to discover a disease much faster , even before symptoms start to show , and so treatment could really improve. maybe even instead of taking medicine it would be enough to take some herbal stuff.

but that's the technology part , probably that's the easy part. the hardest part in this would be all the regulation , who pays , will doctors be against this technology since it hurts their jobs , will patents make it too costly etc...

Brock said at July 30, 2008 9:34 AM:

Blood tests? I was thinking a toothbrush or spit cup for saliva, or a sensor built into the toilet for urine analysis. That should handle most things, no? Maybe a watch that keeps track of certain profiles ...

Also, not sure why daily genetic analysis would be necessary as long as DNA is known/taken into account.

Rahein said at July 30, 2008 9:55 AM:

Any one application we can think up for lab-on-a-chip doesn't matter.

The important part is the paradigm shift. Just like know one could envision the effects of the microchip or internet.

Lab-on-a-chip will change our lives in fundamental ways. Far more then cheap blood or urine tests.

The rate of the change is what will surprise people. The time it takes for 1/2 of the population to adopt a tech is on the same type of exponential curve as Moore's law.

Randall you are always good at dredging up numbers. How long did it take for 1/2 the population get get computers and cell phones? The first lab-on-a-chip, blood glucose meters, hasvebeen out for a while, who long? How many people use them? I think 50% of the pop will use LOC within 5 years, probably way less.

Brock said at July 30, 2008 1:29 PM:

Rahein, adoption rate for all technologies is accelerating. Cable TV faster than broadcast; Internet faster than Cable; Mobile phones faster than phones; MP3 players faster than tape decks; etc.

The world is wealthier every day (more disposable income to spend on technology), but more importantly the spread of knowledge of best (coolest) practices spreads immediately to every corner of the globe.

Rahein said at July 30, 2008 3:23 PM:

@Brock, that is exactly what I was saying.

When the first multi-purpose lab-on-a-chip is available for a reasonable price it will be adopted very quickly.

I wouldn't be surprised to see them integrated in lap tops and then cell phones. Even highly advanced tech AFM, STM, and even partial accelerators are getting miniaturized.

epobirs said at July 30, 2008 4:46 PM:

This brings two 1960s era concepts closer to reality. The Star Trek tricorder and Larry Niven's Autodoc. I always knew I'd live in the future, largely because there was no other option. The question was which future.

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