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NEWS
“Lab-on-a-chip” Could Bring Tests Home
September 1, 2008

A type of device called a “lab-on-a-chip” could bring a new generation of instant home tests for illnesses, food contaminants and toxic gases. But today these portable, efficient tools are often stuck in the lab themselves. Specifically, in the labs of researchers who know how to make them from scratch.

University of Michigan engineers are seeking to change that with a 16-piece lab-on-a-chip kit that brings microfluidic devices to the scientific masses. The kit cuts the costs involved and the time it takes to make a microfluidic device from days to minutes, says Mark Burns, a professor in the departments of Biomedical Engineering and Chemical Engineering who developed the device with graduate student Minsoung Rhee.

A lab-on-a-chip integrates multiple laboratory functions onto one chip just millimeters or centimeters in size. It is usually made of nano-scale pumps, chambers and channels etched into glass or metal. These microfluidic devices that operate with drops of liquid about the size of the period at the end of this sentence allow researchers to conduct quick, efficient experiments. They can be engineered to mimic the human body more closely than the Petri dish does. Among other applications, they are extremely useful in growing and testing cells.

Most of the microfluidic devices that life scientists currently need require a simple channel network design that can be easily accomplished with this new system, Prof. Burns explained. To demonstrate the viability of his system, he successfully grew E. coli cells in one of these modular devices.

“Thirty or 40 years ago, computing was done on large-scale systems. Now everyone has many computers, on their person, in their house…. It’s my vision that in another few decades, you’ll see this trend in microfluidics,” Prof. Burns predicted. “You’ll be analyzing chicken to see if it has salmonella. You’ll be analyzing yourself to see if you have influenza or analyzing the air to see if it has noxious elements in it.”


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