Bed Hadwen with the lab-on-a-chip device (via University of Southampton)
The hospital waiting room could turn into the place one waits for all their results. A team of researchers from Sharp Labs Europe in collaboration with the University of Southampton has recently announced their combined effort in developing a pocket sized device that analyzes blood in a matter of minutes rather than days. The team, led by Sharp’s Ben Hadwen, developed the lab-on-a-chip using what’s known as ‘digital microfluidics’ which processes tiny (nano-liter) discrete droplets of fluid (in this case blood) that can be mixed, reacted and analyzed using either electrowetting (manipulation from an applied electrical field), dielectrophoresis (manipulation from a non-uniform electrical field) or immiscible-fluid flows.
The team’s device works by placing a droplet of blood on the devices microfluidic square (4 to 5cm) where it is then broken down into smaller sized sub-droplets by the LCD-based micro-electronics located directly underneath the square. The droplets are then subjected to bio-chemical diagnostic testing which can then be analyzed in a matter of minutes. In fact, multiple testing can be done with only one drop of blood because the device is able to split and store the droplets for additional testing. Digital microfluidics isn’t actually new as Cytonix designed microfluidic bio-chips back in 1987 that were EWOD-based (Electrowetting on Dielectric) but the technology was lab-based and certainly not portable.
Of course, the team states that their device could also be used to test other liquids such as urine that could detect infections, virus’s or drug use. While Sharp Labs states that the company could easily mass produce, the device is still in its infant stage of development and still needs testing and refinement which could take another 5 to 10 years before it hits the market.