Scientists from the Stanford University School of Medicine have developed a new "lab on a chip" production method that costs only one cent per chip and takes about 20 minutes to be made. The team of researchers wanted to create a cheap method for diagnosis to democratize access for low-income countries, where people can't afford state-of-the-art methods available elsewhere.
The new method consists of two parts. The first part is a clear silicone microfluidic chamber responsible for storing the patient's cells and a reusable electronic strip. The second part is an inkjet printer powered with commercially available conductive nanoparticle ink and responsible for printing the electronic strip onto a flexible sheet of polyester.
The device was designed to handle small-volume samples and can capture single cells from a mix, isolate rare cells and count cells based on cell types. These features are possible due to the device's operation principle, based on each cell's intrinsic electrical properties.
By applying an electric potential across the inkjet-printed strip, different cells get pulled in different directions depending on their polarizability. This method enables the analysis of cells without labeling them, a costly process that uses fluorescent or magnetic labels to track the cells.
As an example, another way to sort and count cells is to use a flow cytometer machine, which costs around $100,000 without operational costs. As stated by Rahim Esfandyarpour, PhD, and an engineering research associate at the genome center:
"We designed it to eliminate the need for clean-room facilities and trained personnel to fabricate such a device."
Finally, these results were published on the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal, which can be accessed here.