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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 Albinoman ( 584294 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @12:45PM (#31800216)

    By waving this battery shaped object randomly around a person while is makes a soothing whirring noise your bluetooth enabled phone can give instant readings raging from various forms of neural degradation, radiation poisoning, and space parasite infections.
    //Tricorder not as far away as we think.

    • Gonna burn some karma for this, but I can't post a JE, so here goes:

      Anyone wanna comment on when these damn 503 errors will be done with?
    • Please, ignore this device I am waving around you. Hmmm... You are denied for insurance by our company for no specific reason.

      • Except they just rewrote how pre-existing conditions are handled. If I knew how I'd mark you as a troll.
        • Yes, you can't be rejected because of a pre-existing condition. But most people take this to mean that the insurance company has to accept you, which is not the truth. They could reject you for any number of reasons [too short, too old, adopted, perhaps parent's medical history, you have ink on your hands, you won't put out for the insurance agent].

          • Actually part of the pre-existing rewrite is that they can't even ask about your parent's medical history as that could be construed as pre-existing.
    • Tricorder not as far away as we think.

      But it is. At least, it's no closer because of this research. This is nothing different from a home pregnancy test, or a glucometer. It's still reagent-based testing. Expensive single-use cartridges with complex enzymes, nanoparticles, or other chemicals. It's really just another way to lock people into using some sort of proprietary consumable. Here's a prediction: the little portable computers that "read" the tests will be sold dirt cheap, or given away, and t

      • 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.
        • Yay for over-sensitive/under-specific testing of a healthy population for relatively rare diseases?

          • Since you can't be trusted to RTFA... "This kind of system may soon lead to handheld devices capable of diagnosing a wide range of disease in minutes, using only a small sample of blood."
            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by PSandusky ( 740962 )

              Since you can't be trusted to RTFA...

              "This kind of system may soon lead to handheld devices capable of diagnosing a wide range of disease in minutes, using only a small sample of blood."

              Okay, so in the Bayesian sense, what's the false positive rate/posterior probability on all of those diseases? Testing everyone for the same battery might not be the best thing in the world.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    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.

    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      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.

      • Well hopefully the technology will have progressed to the point that we'll have nanobots in our bloodstream testing the waters for infections and whatnot then reporting to our home computers.
        • > ...reporting to our home computers.

          Which, being under the control of bots, will pass the information on to the masters in Ukraine who will download templates for suitable viruses which will be passed on to the nanobots which will synthesize them and infect you. The botmasters will then blackmail you for the cure.

  • 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.


    • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

      by wbackner ( 1417725 )
      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.
  • You think they're going to stand around while technology replaces them?

  • There is a related technology that shows great promise for rural medicine, especially in poor and remote places. The concept is based around a small, chemically-treated piece of paper (okay, not technically just a piece of paper, but it helps to visualize it that way) about the size of a postage stamp. A small sample of urine or blood (depending on the type of test) is placed on a receptor point and the blood is sucked across traces to several pads with special chemicals. These chemicals act as basic tests.

  • I suspect the title is nuts, and I did rtfa. I hear the way things are set up in the usa, it is impossible to get medical lab work done without kind of a doctor's scrip. I give this some credence by reflecting on attempts to commercialize easily available HIV tests, as for instance, in taverns. On the other hand, there are home preggo testing kits. maybe someone can sort this out?

  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Saturday April 10, 2010 @03:15PM (#31800926) Homepage Journal

    I'd buy a toilet with an upgradeable lab chipset that analyzed my health every time I used it. So long as I owned and completely controlled its data, sharing it with medical professionals sueable for privacy violations.

    The millennia of humans only wondering "what's that smell?" without really knowing should come to a close in our lifetimes.

  • Wake me up when this 'widget' can do a CD4 Blood test.
    I'm sure that many Leukaemia sufferers will say the same. Having to go to the Hospital rather than the Doctor's Surgery for a CD4 test is a real PITA.

  • 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

    By the time you're going to a doctor you may as well get the sample drawn in the doctor's office or a lab. Until you can perform "over the counter" tests with it, it's useless in the home.

  • But then, as an American, something like this might be the closest thing to health care I ever get.

  • 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 possibility of a medical diagnostic system in every home

    Er no. You realize we doctors don't go to school for 4 or 5 years (and more for specialization) just to gouge people out of their hard earned money, right? While "cheaper" and "more portable" equipment makes it a lot easier to screen a population - the actual DIAGNOSIS can only be made by a physician. Not only do you need to have to be able to read what the machine is telling you - you have to understand why it's telling you

  • It's interesting that the two highest voted comments here both assume that this is looking at the patient's DNA, whereas the article seems (to me) to be saying that it's looking for the DNA of specific diseases - in order to tell you if you have them.

    So next time you're feeling under the weather you can put a few drops of blood into the device and it'll tell you whether you have a cold or smallpox, without you having to trek to the Doctor and possibly waste both time and money.

  • A diagnostic assay would be a solution over and above the current solutions proposed. For example, according to Nature Medicine 16, 348 (2010) the law is responsible the success of counterfeit drugs? Why the law is poor Nature Medicine proposes that the reporting of counterfeit drugs is not mandatory and therefore is underreported. This may be true for the USA where pharmaceuticals are bought online, which is a major distribution source of counterfeit drugs; however, in countries like Australia, this is n
  • ... as the simple plastic strips used by diabetics to monitor their blood glucose levels daily runs about a dollar per strip, and provides only an accuracy of roughly plus-or-minus 20%. And that's using a meter that they give away, the profits are so great on the plastic strips.

    Given that the machinery to process this "disposable plastic cartridge" is going to be fairly costly, the per-use charge seems likely to be expensive enough to preclude use of this as a coarse diagnostic filter, which would seem to

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