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A Lab in Your Doc’s Pocket

When you have blood work done during a physical exam, you have to wait several weeks for the results because your doctor sends the sample to a lab for analysis. That’s not a problem if you’re healthy and simply getting a routine checkup but if you have worrisome symptoms, both you and your physician would benefit from knowing very quickly whether something is amiss.

Now, thanks to the work of Shiyan Hu, an associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Michigan Technological University, the possibility of doctors being able to run those blood tests almost instantly on a piece of plastic about the size of credit card is close at hand. The innovation was featured on the cover of the March 2014 edition of IEEE Transactions on Nanobiosciences.

A release from the university explains that these labs-on-a-chip would not produce results only be quickly but that they would also inexpensive and portable. They could be used miles from the nearest medical clinic to test for anything from HIV to diabetes. Better yet, they could be better than any testing methods currently available.

The available labs-on-a- chipGenerally, a lab-on-a-chip (LOC) can run only one or two tests because the chips are designed manually, but if the LOC were made using computer-aided design, healthcare providers could run dozens of tests with a single drop of blood.

The release quotes Su as saying, “In a very short time, you could test for many conditions. This really would be an entire lab on a chip.”

With PhD student Chen Liao, Hu has taken the first step. “We have developed software to design the hardware,” he said. Their work focuses on routing the droplet of blood or other fluid through each test on the chip efficiently while avoiding any chip contamination.

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