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Biotech Medicine Science Technology

A New "Medical Lab On a Chip" For Every Home? 56

destinyland writes "NWU professor Chad Mirkin discusses his company's new 'lab-on-a-chip' technology — the ability to automatically treat a blood sample with chemicals on a microchip, quickly detecting markers for diseases and other anomalies. The quick 'bio-barcode' test creates the possibility of a medical diagnostic system in every home, since it offers greater sensitivity than current tests with simpler instruments and at lower costs. This is not a futuristic technology; four tests already have received FDA clearances, so 'They're here.... It's in hospitals around the country. Really, what we are waiting for is just an increasing menu [of tests]... It will scale rapidly.'" Reader Trintech sent word of a similar chip developed by Fraunhofer reseachers, writing, "The core element of this new chip is a disposable cartridge made of plastic which can be fitted with various types of sensors. To perform an assay, the doctor only has to place the relevant substances (reagents, etc.) into the cartridge and the test then takes place automatically. It is the researchers' hope that, by using this chip, medical patients will be able to get their lab results in a matter of minutes instead of days."
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A New "Medical Lab On a Chip" For Every Home?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2010 @12:49PM (#31800228)

    Whole genome sequencing is only $12,500.00 today, down from $300M a decade ago, and $200K two years ago. In a few more years, the price will be down below $1000.00. The price is falling exponentially. In a decade or so each person will have their own personal genome sequenced routinely for $100.00. They'll be able to search for any virus or allele they want using their home computer on their own genomic data.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday April 10, 2010 @12:58PM (#31800256)

    True, but not to sure how effective it would show up infections and that which are not in your DNA but only in your blood stream.

  • by the_raptor ( 652941 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @01:33PM (#31800376)

    I think this sort of technology is going to be as useful as Internet self-diagnosis. Most people have multiple "markers for disease" that aren't indicative of real disease or are of non-clinical forms. Bayesian probability* tells us that doing wide screen testing like this will just lead to lots of false positives and unnecessary medical procedures ('cause if the doctor does nothing and it isn't a false positive they will get sued). Some doctor's argue that screening for PSA (prostate specific antigen) causes more Years of Life Lost to unnecessary prostate removals than is saved by catching some cancers early.

    Unfortunately the general public is not getting the reality that medicine is not a magic bullet that can detect and cure all disease with 100% accuracy. And counter-intuitively to decrease statistics like Years lost to Disability or Illness we might have to test less.


  • by JesterJosh ( 1615053 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @02:27PM (#31800686)
    Why would you rather see people go to labs to get tests done the old way when "patients will be able to get their lab results in a matter of minutes instead of days." The "expensive single-use" cartridges are made of plastic and can be fitted with multiple sensors, making them inexpensive and while perhaps usable only once they perform a battery of tests and in a fraction of the time. This is rad.
  • by wbackner ( 1417725 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @02:40PM (#31800768)
    That is true false positives are a problem, and it could add to the worry of some of the hypochondriacs out there. However, there are a significant number of people who don't go to regular doctors visits for a variety of reasons. So it is possible having something in the home that could get people out for a full examination if a risk factor is found might be good and outweigh the false positive risk.
  • Meh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by burningcpu ( 1234256 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @04:46PM (#31801414)
    This guy isn't talking about anything new.

    The concept of a 'lab on a chip' has been around since at least the early 90's. I know from talking with my my boss that in the 70's, chemists at MIT were expecting tricorder devices to be implemented sometime in the late 80's.

    We see some progress in this field, but the ultimate goal of a tricorder device is a long way off. Home pregnancy tests provide a similar functionality, however purpose built for one assay.
    With careful planing, an assay can be marketed for use by consumers, but I'm leery of talk of talk about 'one device to rule them all' when it comes to this sort of analysis.

    The key is that this sort of analysis is not as simple as throwing a sample through a mass spectrometer and identifying the compounds like Sean Connery in Medicine Man.
    Bioanalytical chemistry (which is what this is) is not magic. Physical or chemical information has to be obtained, and this is generally requires the use of reagents such as labeled (with something we can use to detect them, such as radioactive tritium, or a fluorescent compound) antibodies and antigens. I just don't see these sorts of things being sold to consumers in anything but a black box form, where the consumer does not interact with the reagents in a meaningful way. Sort of like how pregnancy tests are done.
    This truth implies that each analysis will have its own one shot kit, providing a qualitative assessment of whatever is under investigation. Sure some of the hardware can be externalized, such as a simple fluorescence spectroscopy instrument, but still, cartridges for whatever test will still need to be purchased. Unless this guy has come up with some incredibly radical--and earthshattering analysis techniques, I've got to say he has either been misquoted by the reporter, or he is blowing PR smoke.

    Funny coincidence is that I am writing up a research proposal for one of my grad classes with the goal of quantifying Early Prostate Cancer Antigen 2 (EPCA-2) in serum using a microfluidic device using forster resonance energy transfer (FRET) as a detection method. I can see a device commercialized for this purpose, but it would be one shot and limited to this analysis.

The Macintosh is Xerox technology at its best.