Measuring proteins in the blood can help doctors determine patients' cancer risk and monitor the health of the elderly and people with chronic diseases. But current methods for testing these proteins are too expensive and require too much blood to be performed regularly. A microfluidic chip in clinical trials does on a single chip in 10 minutes what normally takes multiple technicians hours to do--and with just a single drop of blood. Researchers hope to make bedside diagnostics based on blood proteins a reality by bringing down the cost of such tests by at least an order of magnitude.
The diagnostic chip is being developed by Caltech chemistry professor James Heath and by Leroy Hood, the president and founder of the Institute for Systems Biology, in Seattle. Heath and Hood have founded a company called Integrated Diagnostics to commercialize the blood chip.
Microfluidic chips will eventually show up at home and people will test themselves using a home lab kit at very low cost. A laptop or smart phone will display the test results. The number of diseases these chips can detect will grow enormously and the chips will allow diagnosis at much earlier stages of disease development. This will of course help cure cancer before it metastasizes. But it will also enable much earlier and successful intervention in many other disease processes.
Home testing will lead to computer expert systems for home diagnosis. The data will be at home. Why not upload the daily test results to a web site that monitors for trends and detects bad test results? This will tend to decrease the role of doctors as diagnosticians and leave them more in the role of treatment deliverers. Though eventually automated systems for preparation of stem cell and gene therapies will cut back the need for doctors to deliver treatments.
Rejuvenation therapies and therapies that boost the immune system will cut the incidence of disease. In the long run doctors will spend almost all their time delivering rejuvenation therapies, enhancement therapies (including for appearances, athletics, and even cognitive function), and emergency treatments for accidents and assaults.
The chip offers a significant improvement over the cost and speed of standard laboratory tests to analyze proteins in the blood. In traditional tests, one or more vials of blood are removed from a patient's arm and taken to a laboratory, where the blood is centrifuged to separate whole blood cells from the plasma. The plasma is then assayed for specific proteins. "The process is labor intensive, and even if the person doing the testing hurries, the tests will still take a few hours to complete," says Heath. A kit to test for a single diagnostic protein costs about $50.
"We wanted to dramatically lower the cost of such measurements, by orders of magnitude," he says. "We measure many proteins for the cost of one. Furthermore, if you reduce the time it takes for the test, the test is cheaper, since time is money. With our barcode chip, we can go from pinprick to results in less than 10 minutes."
A single chip can simultaneously test the blood from eight patients, and each test measures many proteins at once. The researchers reported on devices that could measure a dozen proteins from a fingerprick of blood, and their current assays are designed for significantly more proteins. "We are aiming to measure 100 proteins per fingerprick within a year or so. It's a pretty enabling technology," Heath says.
Microfluidic chip power will continue to increase rapidly. More tests will be done in a doctor's office while you wait. Further out more tests will be done routinely at home at much more frequent intervals. Costs will plummet by orders of magnitude and the tests will become far more sensitive.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2008 November 23 09:50 PM Biotech Assay Tools|