New Lab-on-a-Chip Infection Test could Provide Cheaper, Faster Portable Diagnostics

The chip, developed at Imperial College London and known as TriSilix, is a 'micro laboratory' which performs a miniature version of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on the spot. PCR is the gold-standard test for detecting viruses and bacteria in biological samples such as bodily fluids, faeces, or environmental samples.

Although PCR is usually performed in a laboratory, which means test results aren't immediately available, this new lab-on-a-chip can process and present results in a matter of minutes.

The chip is made from silicon, the same material that is used to make electronic chips. Silicon itself is cheap, however, it is expensive to process into chips which requires massive, 'extremely clean' factories otherwise known as cleanrooms. To make the new lab-on-chip, the researchers developed a series of methods to produce the chips in a standard laboratory, cutting the costs and time they take to fabricate, potentially allowing them to be produced anywhere in the world.

Lead researcher Dr Firat Guder of Imperial's Department of Bioengineering said: "Rather than sending swabs to the lab or going to a clinic, the lab could come to you on a fingernail-sized chip. You would use the test much like how people with diabetes use blood sugar tests, by providing a sample and waiting for results - except this time it's for infectious diseases."

The paper is published today in Nature Communications.

The researchers have so far used TriSilix to diagnose a bacterial infection mainly present in animals as well as a synthetic version of the genetic material from SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19.

The researchers say the system could in future be mounted onto handheld blood sugar test-style devices. This would let people test themselves and receive results at home for colds, flu, recurrent infections like those of the urinary tract (UTIs), and COVID-19.

Table-top devices for testing of infections like COVID-19 already exist, but these tests can be time-consuming and costly since the patient must go to a clinic, have a sample taken by a healthcare worker and go home or stay in clinic to wait. People leaving their homes when not feeling well increases the risk of spread of a pathogen to others.

If validated on human samples, this new test could provide results outside a clinic, at home or on-the-go within minutes.

The researchers also say a highly portable test could accelerate diagnosis of infections and reduce costs by eliminating transportation of samples. Such tests could be performed by citizens in the absence of highly trained medical professionals - hence, if they need to self-isolate, they can start immediately without potentially infecting others.

Making testing more accessible and cheaper is especially important for people in rural areas of low-income countries, where clinics can be far away and expensive to travel to. If made available to patients, it could also be used to diagnose and monitor infections like UTIs, which often recur despite antibiotics.

First author Dr Estefania Nunez-Bajo, also of the Department of Bioengineering, said: "Monitoring infections at home could even help patients, with the help of their doctor, to personalise and tailor their antibiotic use to help reduce the growing problem of antibiotic resistance."

Each lab-on-a-chip contains a DNA sensor, temperature detector and heater to automate the testing process. A typical smartphone battery could power up to 35 tests on a single charge.

Next, the researchers plan to validate their chip with clinical samples, automate the preparation of samples and advance their handheld electronics. They are looking for partners and funders to help accelerate the translation of the technology deliver testing at resource limited settings at homes, farms or remote locations in the developing world.

Estefania Nunez-Bajo, Alexander Silva Pinto Collins, Michael Kasimatis, Yasin Cotur, Tarek Asfour, Ugur Tanriverdi, Max Grell, Matti Kaisti, Guglielmo Senesi, Karen Stevenson, Firat Güder.
Disposable silicon-based all-in-one micro-qPCR for apid on-site detection of pathogens.
Nat Commun 11, 6176 (2020). 10.1038/s41467-020-19911-6

Most Popular Now

Accelerating Data Solutions to Save LIVE…

The consortium of COVID-X announces the launch of the ​1st Open Call ​framed in a ​2-year initiative that will invest ​4 million € to fast-track to market 30+ European data...

Significant Disparities in Telemedicine …

After "COVID-19," the term that most people will remember best from 2020 is likely to be "social distancing." While it most commonly applied to social gatherings with family and friends...

Model Used to Evaluate Lockdowns was Fla…

In a recent study, researchers from Imperial College London developed a model to assess the effect of different measures used to curb the spread of the coronavirus. However, the model...

New Virtual Screening Strategy Identifie…

A novel computational drug screening strategy combined with lab experiments suggest that pralatrexate, a chemotherapy medication originally developed to treat lymphoma, could potentially be repurposed to treat COVID-19. Haiping Zhang...

Using Artificial Intelligence to Find Ne…

Scientists have developed a machine-learning method that crunches massive amounts of data to help determine which existing medications could improve outcomes in diseases for which they are not prescribed. The intent...

FDA Releases Artificial Intelligence / M…

Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released the agency's first Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML)-Based Software as a Medical Device (SaMD) Action Plan. This action plan describes a multi-pronged approach...

One in Four Doctors Attacked, Harassed o…

While many physicians benefit from social media by networking with potential collaborators or interfacing with patients, a new study from Northwestern University and the University of Chicago found many physicians...

CliniSys Launches Laboratory Information…

CliniSys has launched a new laboratory information management system for genomic laboratories in the UK. The company has brought GLIMS Genomics to the UK from Europe, where it is being...

The Institute of Healthcare Management C…

The Institute of Healthcare Management has called for honest and open communication about NHS capacity after a snapshot survey revealed the scale of sickness absence across the service. The UK's leading...

First NHS Trust and Sectra Achieve Rapid…

A new region-wide approach to analysing x-rays, MRI scans, CT scans, mammography, and an entire range of crucial diagnostic images, has started to become reality, now that The Pennine Acute...

Bayer Transforms Pharma Business through…

At its virtual Pharma Media Day, Bayer presented exciting progress in transforming its pharmaceutical business with breakthrough innovation in healthcare that will significantly help patients suffering from conditions that are...