A number of research teams are developing tiny but powerful chips using nanotechnology that can perform diagnostic tests quickly and reliably. According to The Guardian, the ‘lab-on-a-chip’ shrinks modern laboratory processes down onto a microchip-sized wafer of glass or plastic. Mark Morrison, CEO of the Institute of Nanotechnology in Stirling, UK, said:
With a lab-on-a-chip you can do a quick diagnostic test and get information right there, which is very useful when somebody’s got a disease that’s got a very short timeline to be treated. What it effectively does is miniaturises and compacts all the different processes that a researcher or a technician in the diagnostic lab uses.
There are many applications for this kind of medical technology. Professor Tom Duke from the London Center for Nanotechnology is working on a chip that can test a blood sample to see if it contains HIV. The University of Alberta has developed a chip that can screen for chromosome mutations that cause a range of cancers. The Simbas chip, designed by a team of researchers from the University of California, is able to detect a biological component in blood at a concentration of around 1 part per 40 billion.
These chips have a lot of potential, as they deliver tests quickly and only require a drop of blood. As the technology becomes faster and cheaper, we should see more of these devices being developed.