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Technology at its nano best: hand-held lab-on-a-chip for blood tests

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology are developing a kind of lab-on-a-chip which is a miniaturized, portable version of a blood-count machine. // This would benefit astronauts on long missions, who will need the ability to analyze blood samples in real-time to diagnose infection, allergies, anemia or deficiencies in the immune system.

The project is funded by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI).

Along with the university IRIS International, Inc., are working on this project.

The process of blood testing takes about two minutes. Dr. Yu-Chong Tai, investigator on NSBRI’s Technology Development Team said, “Analysis of blood composition is how doctors test for infections and deficiencies in the immune system, monitor health and make medical diagnoses. Looking ahead to future missions to the moon and Mars, astronauts will need to perform simple blood tests to get up-to-the-minute information on their health.”

This would replace bulky machines. “In addition to space medicine, the technology could be used in neonatal care since large blood draws are not possible with infants. Normal blood-count machines are large to accommodate many samples and multiple tests, so to be safe, technicians take more blood from a patient than is actually needed. Since our goal is to assess blood composition on a molecular level, we only need a tiny amount. By miniaturizing the counting machine, we’re able to take a smaller sample, making the device a portable tool for space flight and in clinical settings.”

The blood-count machine will separate and identify components of blood such as red and white blood cells, lipids, proteins or oxygen. The blood sample is pulled into a mixing chamber where anti-coagulation chemicals are injected.

“In this case, white blood cells will be separated from red blood cells. Because of fluid dynamics, larger molecules like white blood cells will bypass a chamber that they can’t fit into and flow into the space where they do, thus separating the blood cell types,” said. Dr. Tai.

As a concluding remark Dr. Tai said, “The chip can be designed for many applications. The miniaturized cell-counter has potential as a diagnostic tool for cancer detection by searching in plasma for certain biomolecules that could be early indicators. Science has dictated that all of these things can be done, we’ve just needed to develop the technology.


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