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Stanford University School of Medicine

Inexpensive “lab on a chip” could fuel medical diagnostics revolution, researchers hope

Diagnosing malaria, or HIV, or cancer, or any of a number of diseases, now usually takes a sterile laboratory with trained technicians and expensive equipment. That makes it tricky, and pricey, to reach millions of people in countries with limited infrastructure.

In response, scores of researchers worldwide are scrambling to develop cheaper, smaller and versatile devices that can mimic the functions of laboratory equipment. Now, a team led by Stanford's Ron Davis, PhD, who directs the Stanford Genome Technology Center, and Rahim Esfandyarpour, PhD, an engineering research associate, have developed a "lab-on-a-chip" that exceeds the capabilities of many of its predecessors.

All for the cost of 1 cent.

A Stanford Medicine press release explains:

A combination of microfluidics, electronics and inkjet printing technology, the lab on a chip is a two-part system. The first is a clear silicone microfluidic chamber for housing cells and a reusable electronic strip. The second part is a regular inkjet printer that can be used to print the electronic strip onto a flexible sheet of polyester using commercially available conductive nanoparticle ink.

'We designed it to eliminate the need for clean-room facilities and trained personnel to fabricate such a device,' said Esfandyarpour, an electrical engineer by training. One chip can be produced in about 20 minutes, he said.


The tool is designed to handle small-volume samples for a variety of assays. The researchers showed the device can help capture single cells from a mix, isolate rare cells and count cells based on cell types.

"Enabling early detection of diseases is one of the greatest opportunities we have for developing effective treatments," Esfandyarpour said. "Maybe $1 in the U.S. doesn't count that much, but somewhere in the developing world, it's a lot of money."

The research appears today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Previously: The power and limits of zeroing in: Stanford Medicine magazine on diagnosticsMiniature chemistry kit brings science out of the lab and into the classroom or field and Stanford biochemist and geneticist Ron Davis = today's greatest inventor?
Photo of Rahim Esfandyarpour by Zahra Koochak

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