In the early days of computers, they were inaccessible - million-dollar beasts that filled a room and you needed a PhD to be able to operate one. Nowadays, everybody has one and theyre even in kindergarten classes, he says.
He says miniaturization made that possible and brought the cost factor down by about a million.
In health care we need that even more. Life science technologies exist but they are not being utilized because they are very expensive, Backhouse adds. Weve applied the same miniaturization technologies to health care that were applied to computers by coming up with portable, lab-on-a-chip technologies that are easy to use.
The engineering team has been building and testing the units in the University of Albertas Micro and Nano Fabrication Facility (commonly called the NanoFab), an open-access lab used by U of A researchers, and scientists from other universities and high-tech companies.
We can work on a drop of almost anything, Backhouse says of their diagnostic unit. It takes about an hour to get the results.
The heart of the unit, the chip, looks like a standard microscope slide etched with fine silver and gold lines. That microfabricated chip applies nano-biotechnologies within tiny volumes, sometimes working with only a few molecules of sample. Because of this highly integrated chip (containing microfluidics and microscale devices), the remainder of the system is inexpensive ($1,000) and fast.
There are many possible uses for such a portable genetic testing unit:
Backhouse notes that adverse drug reactions are a major problem in health care. By running a quick genetic test on a cancer patient, for example, doctors might pinpoint the type of cancer and determine the best drug and correct dosage for the individual.
Or health-care professionals can easily look for the genetic signature for a virus or E. col
|Contact: Julia Necheff|
University of Alberta