Health In Focus
  • A lab on a chip test that combines many functions of a lab has been designed by a research team from the University of California.
  • The microfluidics technology allows very small quantity of sample fluid, pico litres, to be utilized.
  • Easy, faster and reliable method of DNA biomarker and whole virus detection.

Diagnosing cancer early will help in providing better care as cancer is the second leading cause of death in the U.S. Genetic biomarkers aid in early detection as well as for treatment purposes like in immunotherapy. Scientists are now working on miniature lab on chips that are small and which require limited test volumes and are cost effective.
Lab on A Chip to Detect Cancer Biomarkers

The research team from Brigham Young University and from The University of California have designed molecular detection tests based on a silicon platform. The laboratory on a chip that these scientists have developed has many uses including:
  • Testing smaller volumes of blood. These tests require smaller volumes which are just a fraction of what is required when testing is carried out using test tubes.
  • Bulky equipment is avoided: Routine diagnosis requires bulky equipment that is not required when chip based diagnosis is utilized.
  • Integration of multiple functions: The chip integrates multiple functions which make diagnosis fast and easier.
  • Easy to transport: The chip based lab is easy to transport and can be carried around easily.
Holger Schmidt of The University of California said optofluidic chips were used that included both optical sensing and fluid processing. A lot of work went into building the chips that had to be optimized for the various functions like filtering of blood and preventing the filter from clogging. The optical data that was received had to be analyzed correctly to identify the excitation patterns.

The study researchers hope to extend the chip to detect DNA biomarkers. Previous studies by the same researchers identified single nucleic acid analysis that was used to detect Ebola virus. The researchers state that they want to make the process faster and to include protein biomarker detection, apart from detecting nucleic acids and whole viruses.

The tests that are conducted on the micro-chip are broad based and include a range of diagnosis like molecular diagnosis, infectious diseases as well as in oncology. The tests have been designed to be easy to perform that could make these tests popular among students as well as the scientific community.

Cancer Detection

Cancer screening and detection play an important role in the care provided to patients. Early detection results in better care and better prognosis. There are many biomarkers for cancer detection and for the prediction of the recurrence risk. This is utilized by many doctors to provide personalized medicines. Certain types of cancer may not require chemotherapy after removal of the tumor while certain others may require extensive chemotherapy for controlling the spread of the disease.

Such genetic analysis or identification of DNA biomarkers to score cancer and to assess the modalities of treatment takes a few weeks with a relatively high amount of blood collected from the patient. The current technology of utilizing nano-technology for miniaturizing processes will aid in faster analysis with lower quantity of blood samples.

Breast cancer occurs in 3 out of 4 women in India, but not all forms of breast cancer are invasive nor are they caused by mutations in the same genes. Many different genes can lead to the development of breast cancer and identifying the right biomarker will aid in better planning of treatment. Such cancer biomarkers are used routinely for risk analysis, especially among close relatives of patients. A simple technique could promote better access to such risk detection tests and create greater awareness about early detection.

Most people shun away from cancer risk detection due to the long waiting period but a simple test could encourage more people to take up these tests. The lab on a chip tests that have been devised integrate a lot of laboratory functions to a single microfluidic chip that requires only pico litres of fluid.

References :
  1. Laboratory-on-a-chip technique simplifies detection of cancer DNA biomarkers - (
Source: Medindia

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