Researchers at Penn State have demonstrated an acoustofluidic pump powered by a piezoelectric transducer about the size of a quarter. This reliable, inexpensive, programmable pump is a crucial feature for lab-on-a-chip devices that could make the diagnosis of many global life-threatening diseases easy and affordable.
“The field of microfluidics and lab-on-a-chip technologies has the potential to revolutionize the healthcare industry with cost-effective, high-performance miniature biomedical diagnostic devices. Despite its tremendous potential, the field has only delivered very limited numbers of products and tools for real-world applications. One of the reasons is that it is difficult to fabricate micropumps that are simple and inexpensive, yet reliable and effective,” said Tony Huang, professor of engineering science and mechanics in Penn State’s College of Engineering.
Huang and his team demonstrated that with a smart microfluidic design, low-power acoustic waves could deliver fluids precisely and reliably. The permanent equipment for the total lab-on-a-chip system, including off-the-shelf electronics, could cost as little as $20-$30 to make, and the disposable chip could cost as little as 10 cents, Huang said. Although slightly more expensive than paper-based diagnostics — such as home pregnancy tests — the system is far more versatile and precise, enabling quantitative analysis of, for example, HIV, hepatitis, cancer, infectious diseases, cardiovascular diseases, and nutritional deficiency.
In the U.S., where many diagnostic tests can cost as much as $800 due to the high cost of equipment and the necessity for trained technicians, a cheap, easy-to-use, and yet high-performance device with a disposable chip that only costs a few cents could dramatically lower the cost of healthcare. In the future, a battery powered system could bring affordable disease diagnosis to regions without available electricity.
“As engineers, we feel it is our responsibility to come up with innovative solutions and help provide better yet cheaper healthcare solutions. I foresee a time when these tests could be done in a doctor’s office, at home, or in the field,” Huang said.
The Latest on: Lab-on-a-chip
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The Latest on: Lab-on-a-chip
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