2012 May 30 Wednesday
Microfluidic Device Detects Leukemia Or HIV

By doing counts of different types of blood cells a microfluidic device holds the potential to lower the cost of diagnosing some blood diseases.

Inexpensive, portable devices that can rapidly screen cells for leukemia or HIV may soon be possible thanks to a chip that can produce three-dimensional focusing of a stream of cells, according to researchers.

"HIV is diagnosed based on counting CD4 cells," said Tony Jun Huang, associate professor of engineering science and mechanics, Penn State. "Ninety percent of the diagnoses are done using flow cytometry."

Huang and his colleagues designed a mass-producible device that can focus particles or cells in a single stream and performs three different optical assessments for each cell. They believe the device represents a major step toward low-cost flow cytometry chips for clinical diagnosis in hospitals, clinics and in the field.

Microfluidic devices will cut the costs of most laboratory tests. They'll also accelerate the rate of advance of biological science and biotechnology. This bodes well for the development of rejuvenation therapies.

These researchers think they can eventually replace $100k machines with $1k machines.

"The full potential of flow cytometry as a clinical diagnostic tool has yet to be realized and is still in a process of continuous and rapid development," the team said in a recent issue of Biomicrofluidics. "Its current high cost, bulky size, mechanical complexity and need for highly trained personnel have limited the utility of this technique."

Flow cytometry typically looks at cells in three ways using optical sensors. Flow cytometers use a tightly focused laser light to illuminate focused cells and to produce three optical signals from each cell. These signals are fluorescence from antibodies bound to cells, which reveals the biochemical characteristics of cells; forward scattering, which provides the cell size and its refractive index; and side scattering, which provides cellular granularity. Processing these signals allows diagnosticians to identify individual cells in a mixed cell population, identify fluorescent markers and count cells and other analysis to diagnose and track the progression of HIV, cancer and other diseases.

"Current machines are very expensive costing $100,000," said Huang. "Using our innovations, we can develop a small one that could cost about $1,000."

We need huge reductions in medical testing costs so that medical testing can move into the home. You should be able to get tested daily in your bathroom with your test results uploaded to a diagnostic server. The diagnostic server should run a large set of expert systems for medical diagnosis and disease treatment recommendations.

By Randall Parker    2012 May 30 09:52 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2012 March 27 Tuesday
Gut-On-A-Chip Microdevice For Faster Research

The future of biomedical research will happen with large numbers of very cheap small devices. Just like with computers.

Boston, MA -- Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have created a gut-on-a-chip microdevice lined by living human cells that mimics the structure, physiology, and mechanics of the human intestine -- even supporting the growth of living microbes within its luminal space. As a more accurate alternative to conventional cell culture and animal models, the microdevice could help researchers gain new insights into intestinal disorders, such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, and also evaluate the safety and efficacy of potential treatments. The research findings appear online in the journal Lab on a Chip.

Biology's rate of progress is going to accelerate because biological research will be done with large numbers of cheap, small, automated chips.

Building on the Wyss Institute's breakthrough "Organ-on-Chip" technology that uses microfabrication techniques to build living organ mimics, the gut-on-a-chip is a silicon polymer device about the size of a computer memory stick.

Small stuff can be made cheaply in volume. With enough software to control it biological research will be controlled at computer consoles commanding large numbers of microfluidic devices. The cheapness, automation, and massive parallelism made possible by the chips will make experiment design and execution fast and easy.

By Randall Parker    2012 March 27 10:01 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2012 March 10 Saturday
Carbon Nanotubes To Cut Medical Testing Time, Costs

Why wait days and do a return visit to a doctor to get medical test results? Carbon nanotubes will eventually enable medical tests while you are in a doctor's office and for a small fraction of current costs.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Researchers at Oregon State University have tapped into the extraordinary power of carbon “nanotubes” to increase the speed of biological sensors, a technology that might one day allow a doctor to routinely perform lab tests in minutes, speeding diagnosis and treatment while reducing costs.

The new findings have almost tripled the speed of prototype nano-biosensors, and should find applications not only in medicine but in toxicology, environmental monitoring, new drug development and other fields.

The research was just reported in Lab on a Chip, a professional journal. More refinements are necessary before the systems are ready for commercial production, scientists say, but they hold great potential.

“With these types of sensors, it should be possible to do many medical lab tests in minutes, allowing the doctor to make a diagnosis during a single office visit,” said Ethan Minot, an OSU assistant professor of physics. “Many existing tests take days, cost quite a bit and require trained laboratory technicians.

“This approach should accomplish the same thing with a hand-held sensor, and might cut the cost of an existing $50 lab test to about $1,” he said.

But why the need to interrupt your work day go to the doctor's office and wait in line? As lab-on-a-chip medical testing technology gets cheaper the next step should be medical testing pharmacies equipped with medical testing stations. These test stations could be usable in the evenings and weekends. You could get the idea to test yourself at any time. We really should be able to avoid the need to make an appointment, wait for the appointment, interrupt your work day, go to the doctor, wait, see the doctor, see the receptionist to pay a bill, make a follow-up appointment for results, and all the rest of it.

With pharmacy-based testing the results could get uploaded to a web server for your doctor to look at later. Also, medical diagnostic expert systems could store and process your history of medical test results and could alert you and doctors when a real problem presents.

Beyond pharmacy-based testing the next obvious step is testing in the home or wherever else you happen to be. Plug a medical testing device into your iPad or Android phone and let it poke you for blood to spit into it or provide other kinds of samples. Or have sensors built into your own sink and toilet analyze what comes out of you. Also, air sensors on your bed stand could monitor your gases. Plus, sensors implanted into your body could report to your smart phone or your home computer network.

By Randall Parker    2012 March 10 08:52 AM   Entry Permalink | Comments (6)
2010 March 07 Sunday
New Microfluidic Device 1000 Faster Than Robots

Faster and faster in biological sciences.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., March 2, 2010 – Fictional candy maker Willy Wonka called his whimsical device to sort good chocolate eggs from bad, an eggucator. Likewise, by determining what enzymes and compounds to keep and which to discard, scientists are aiming to find their own golden eggs: more potent drugs and cleaner sources of energy.

Toward that end, Harvard researchers and a team of international collaborators demonstrated a new microfluidic sorting device that rapidly analyzes millions of biological reactions. Smaller than an iPod Nano, the device analyzes reactions a 1,000-times faster and uses 10 million-fold less volumes of reagent than conventional state-of-the-art robotic methods.

The scientists anticipate that the invention could reduce screening costs by 1 million-fold and make directed evolution, a means of engineering tailored biological compounds, more commonplace in the lab.

The tubes in it are narrower than a human hair. Imagine future generations of microfluidic devices usable by non-scientists. Wondering if you have a bacterial or viral infection? You'll have a device that will figure that out for you without your going to a doctor. Parents who want to forecast how fast little Jill or Johnnie will get over a fever will be able to get an instant diagnosis and probable duration of each cold and sore throat.

While personal microfluidic devices will be pretty cool and very useful the biggest benefits from microfluidics will come in research labs. Microfluidics is starting to do for biological sciences what silicon microcircuitry has been and continues to do for the computer industry (i.e. massive fast moving revolution lasting decades). I am optimistic about the development of full body rejuvenation therapies mostly due to advances in microfluidics and other biological assay and manipulation microdevices. They work faster with higher sensitivity, cost less, and achieve a much higher degree of automation.

By Randall Parker    2010 March 07 07:11 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (3)
2008 March 02 Sunday
Chip Controls Experiments On Nerve Cell

Picture a fully robotic laboratory where huge racks of microfluidic chips continuously conduct simultaneous experiments on millions of cells. That's where I see cellular biology headed. Humans will just program experiments and analyze experimental results. A Johns Hopkins team has developed a device that I think is a step on the road toward totally automated labs. A chip can control the environment of a single nerve cell and feed it controlled amounts of chemicals to see how the cell responds to growth signals.

Johns Hopkins researchers from the Whiting School of Engineering and the School of Medicine have devised a micro-scale tool - a lab on a chip - designed to mimic the chemical complexities of the brain. The system should help scientists better understand how nerve cells in the brain work together to form the nervous system.

A report on the work appears as the cover story in the February 2008 issue of the British journal Lab on a Chip.

”The chip we’ve developed will make experiments on nerve cells more simple to conduct and to control,” says Andre Levchenko, Ph.D., associate professor of biomedical engineering at the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering and faculty affiliate of the Institute for NanoBioTechnology.

Nerve cells decide which direction to grow by sensing both the chemical cues flowing through their environment as well as those attached to the surfaces that surround them. The chip, which is made of a plastic-like substance and covered with a glass lid, features a system of channels and wells that allow researchers to control the flow of specific chemical cocktails around single nerve cells.

“It is difficult to establish ideal experimental conditions to study how neurons react to growth signals because so much is happening at once that sorting out nerve cell connections is hard, but the chip, designed by experts in both brain chemistry and engineering, offers a sophisticated way to sort things out,” says Guo-li Ming, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and Institute for Cell Engineering.

In experiments with their chip, the researchers put single nerve cells, or neurons, onto the chip then introduced specific growth signals (in the form of chemicals). They found that the growing neurons turned and grew toward higher concentrations of certain chemical cues attached to the chip’s surfaces, as well as to signaling molecules free-flowing in solution.

Chips such as these lend themselves to cheap mass manufacture. The chips will improve in successive generations just as computer chips do. They will become better integrated with each other and robot devices will install them and tend to them. Eventually we'll see fully automated lights-out labs analogous to lights out manufacturing plants which companies seek to achieve in order to minimize manufacturing labor costs.

By Randall Parker    2008 March 02 04:55 PM   Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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