In the near term, the biochip could speed scientific research, which could accelerate drug development for muscle and nerve disorders like epilepsy and help create more productive crop varieties.
"Instead of doing one experiment per day, as is often the case, this technology is automated and capable of performing hundreds of experiments in one day," said Marshall Porterfield, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering who leads the team developing the chip.
The device works by measuring the concentration of ions -- tiny charged particles -- as they enter and exit cells. The chip can record these concentrations in up to 16 living cells temporarily sealed within fluid-filled pores in the microchip. With four electrodes per cell, the chip delivers 64 simultaneous, continuous sources of data.
This additional data allows for a deeper understanding of cellular activity compared to current technology, which measures only one point outside one cell and cannot record simultaneously, Porterfield said. The chip also directly records ion concentrations without harming the cells, whereas present methods cannot directly detect specific ions, and cells being studied typically are destroyed in the process, he said. There are several advantages to retaining live cells, he said, such as being able to conduct additional tests or monitor them as they grow.
"The current technology being used in research labs is very slow and difficult," said Porterfield, who believes the new chip could help develop drugs for human disorders involving ion channel malfunction, such as epilepsy and chronic pain. About 15 percent of the drugs currently in development affect the activities of ion channels, he said, and their development i