Soon, your family doctor will no longer have to send blood or cancer cell samples to the laboratory. A little chip will give her test results on the spot.
Today, a blood sample whose protein content, genes and so on are to be read needs to be submitted to a series of complex processes, such as centrifugation, heat treatment, mixing with enzymes and concentration of disease markers. This means that samples are sent to central laboratories for analysis, and weeks may pass before the results are returned.
The same thing happens when women are checked for cervical cancer by taking a cell scrape from the cervix. The samples are then sent off and studied under the microscope. Diagnostic error rates can be high when abnormal cell appearance is determined by even experienced eyes.
The EU’s MicroActive project has developed an integrated system based on microtechnology and biotechnology, that will enable a number of conditions to be diagnosed automatically in the doctor’s own office.
The new “health chip” looks like a credit card and contains a complete laboratory. The EU project has used cells taken to diagnose cervical cancer as a case study, but in principle the chip can check out a number of different diseases caused by bacteria or viruses, as well as various types of cancer.
SINTEF has coordinated the project, whose other members include universities, hospitals and research institutes from Germany and Ireland. The Norwegian NorChip company had the idea for the chip, and has carried out full-scale tests during the project.