All the frills in life are shrinking in size. Laptops, cellphones and even big-screen televisions have been getting thinner and thinner. So why shouldn’t necessary technology like medical labs and scientific tools get the same slimming treatment?
Now they are: advances in nanotechnology have made it possible to put an entire medical lab into one high-powered chip, which not only fits in the palm of your hand, but also performs diagnostic tests in a matter of minutes.
Researchers are gradually finding ways to create reliable, nano-sized labs that are able to perform a variety of diagnostic tests, which used to require teams of people and weeks of waiting. The tiny wafers of glass or plastic work by compressing a series of tests. For example, the Guardianreports Professor Tom Duke at the London Center for Nanotechnology is working on a “lab-on-a-chip” to test for HIV.
In Duke’s chip, a drop of blood is separated by nanometer-sized pillars, which then trap larger elements such as blood cells and proteins. Virus particles pass through this trap (which acts like a nano-sieve) where they hit a series of levers coated with antibodies that bend when they are hit. The more they bend, the more virus is present.
This is just one application for the lab-on-a-chip. Many different viruses and diseases can be tested using a similar process including genetic mutations, cancer and even biological contaminants from the battlefield. The Guardian also reports that the Simbas chip, designed by a team from the University of California, Berkeley, which can detect a biological component in blood at a concentration of approximately one part per 40 billion.