Lab-on-a-chip technology wherein which laboratory operations (medical diagnoses) can be performed on a small scale, via the use of miniaturized devices [of a few nanometers in length], has been in development for over a decade.
This is in contrast to having to use equipment that may take up entire rooms, or sections of entire rooms in buildings, in order to perform said medical diagnoses.
According to article, "Disposable Lab-on-a-Chip Cures Diagnostic Debacle", by R. Colin Johnson, "traditionally lab on a chip technology used semiconductor fabrication equipment (akin to what is used to make the silicon chips used by computers), to create a web of tiny microfluidic channels, pumps and reagent chambers, capable of testing a patient sample for maladies in just a few minutes.
(This is shown in the inset picture above).
Unfortunately, the cost of these chips has never been reduced enough to make them economically feasible to throw away after use".
However, this is changing, due to research by Purdue University.
Purdue researchers have developed a disposable lab-on-a-chip technology, that, according to the above article,"Instead of using lasers to make microfluidic channels on silicon or glass substrates with semiconductor equipment, the lasers are used to make tiny channels on cheap paper substrates.
This results in a device that can test for dozens of maladies simultaneously, and yet it is inexpensive enough to throw away after a single use".
The paper used (which is about the size of a letter size paper), however, has to be water-repellant (hydrophobic), such as parchment or wax, so that the lasers can cut patterns in it.
The hydophillic (water loving) channels formed, act like wicks that transport (patient) liquids down them, without the use of MEMS (micro-electro-mechanical system) pumps required by traditional labs-on-a-chip technologies.
In order to test for certain maladies, silicon dioxide (silica) microparticles containing test reagents, are deposited in the channels. The patient's fluid sample will simply diffuse (spread) over them.
The reagents that are activated by the fluid sample, indicating a positive reaction, will then glow.
This glow is detected by an electronic reader...which then tell which maladies tested positive in the patient's fluid sample.
This technology has great implications for the health and well-being of Caribbean nationals, as it will make medical diagnoses, here, much more affordable.
This is particularly true in cases where we still have to send patient samples abroad for testing/diagnoses by equipment that is too expensive for us to buy here in the Caribbean.
E.g in the case of cell degenerative disease...which causes the malfunction of cells and leads to abnormal aging. (This disease results in muscular and brain malfunction - leading very young persons e.g. children, to age prematurely, with all the negative side effects of aging).
...We still have to send patient samples abroad, for testing for this disease, as we don't have (and can't afford) the equipment for testing said disease, here in Jamaica.
This process can be quite lengthy (weeks) and attracts costs for transportation, diagnosis and equipment use.
So although disposable lab-on-a-chip technology is still in development, this technology, when available "on the shelf" (released to the market), will allow Caribbean governments to save millions of US dollars, as tests that would otherwise have been too expensive to perform in the Caribbean, can now be done with affordable lab-on-a-chip technology.
Thus giving these governments competitive advantages in health tourism and also enabling more efficient and effective medical care, here.
Because of the financial and human welfare benefits to be derived from this technology, it behoves Caribbean governments and other governments in the rest of the developing world,to pay keen attention to developments with this technology...as they stand to reap huge benefits from it.
(I would like to thank brucesflickr for the use of his Flickr inset photo of a Microfluidic detector used on a traditional lab-on-a-chip. Note the size of it.
This would now be replaced by a paper-based system in the new, disposable lab-on-a-chip).
1) Insights: Lab on a chip, Vol. 442, No. 7101 pp367-418, via Nature.com, accessed February 17,2011
2) Article, "Disposable Lab-on-a-Chip Cures Diagnostic Debacle" by R. Colin Johnson, Smarter Technologies, February 8,2011
3) Coverage of Cell Degenerative Disease on Health Watch, via Television Jamaica, week of February 6, 2011