Photograph of the stand alone 1x2 inch SIMBAS chip simultaneously processing five separate whole-blood samples by separating the plasma from the blood cells and detecting the presence of biotin, or vitamin B7. (Credit: Ivan Dimov)
In many of my previous blogs on medical technology, I have emphasized the need and market for the technology to become so portable that it is able to be used on the field in underdeveloped nations to help fight disease and epidemics. The chip that you see above is doing just that. It allows for quick, on-the-site blood testing.
This device is called SIMBAS by it's creators (Self-powered Integrated Microfluidic Blood Analysis System). UC Berkley post doctoral researcher states, "The dream of a true lab-on-a-chip has been around for a while, but most systems developed thus far have not been truly autonomous. By the time you add tubing and sample prep setup components required to make previous chips function, they lose their characteristic of being small, portable and cheap. In our device, there are no external connections or tubing required, so this can truly become a point-of-care system."
His collegue, UC Berkley professor of bioengineering, Luke Lee states, "This is a very important development for global healthcare diagnostics. Field workers would be able to use this device to detect diseases such as HIV or tuberculosis in a matter of minutes. The fact that we reduced the complexity of the biochip and used plastic components makes it much easier to manufacture in high volume at low cost. Our goal is to address global health care needs with diagnostic devices that are functional, cheap and truly portable."
With the accessibility of blood testing and their ensuing results being difficult to attain in rural areas like HIV infested Africa, diagnosing has always been difficult. Doctors could send off blood samples for testing, but in some cases, the time it took to get results back from a competent lab could be tragically too long. With the SIMBAS chip, results are currently coming in about 10 mins after the sample is taken. If you consider the quick turnaround along with the low price of the chips themselves, the research is compelling.
In conclusion, a quote from the study's co-author and UC Berkley graduate student, Benjamin Ross, "Imagine if you had something as cheap and as easy to use as a pregnancy test, but that could quickly diagnose HIV and TB. That would be a real game-changer. It could save millions of lives."
Study Guide Questions:
1. What does SIMBAS stand for?
2. About how wide are the microfluidic channels on the SIMBAS biochip?
3. Fill in the Blank: Researchers took advantage of the laws of ________ ________ to speed up processes that take hours or days in a traditional lab.
University of California - Berkeley. "New blood analysis chip could lead to disease diagnosis in minutes." ScienceDaily 18 March 2011. 20 March 2011 http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/03/110318102243.htm.