An inkjet-printed lab-on-a-chip that costs about a penny to produce could revolutionize diagnostic services around the world. Reduced-cost diagnostic tools would be especially important in developing countries, where doctors often lack access to expensive medical technology.
Research at the Stanford University Genome Technology Center developed the chip, using expertise in microfluidics, electronics, as well as inkjet printing.
The chip is a two-part system. A silicone microfluidic chamber houses a cell sample and a reusable electronic strip. The inkjet printer prints the electronic strip onto a sheet of polyester, using commercially-available conductive nanoparticle ink. Chip production takes about 20 minutes.
The chip supports several diagnostic applications. One use is analyzing different cell types without using the fluorescent or magnetic labels typically necessary. The chip sorts cells based on intrinsic electrical properties, by a process called dielectrophoresis. This method is more precise than labeling and can be completed faster, the developers say.
The tool can also carry out a variety of assays on small-volume samples, such as isolating rare cells or counting cells based on type.
The research team was motivated by a desire to lower the cost of diagnostic tools and make these tools available worldwide. The lab-on-a-chip can detect tumor cells early, allowing physicians to start treatment sooner.