Researchers Develop Smartphone-Powered Microchip for at-Home Medical Diagnostic Testing

A University of Minnesota Twin Cities research team has developed a new microfluidic chip for diagnosing diseases that uses a minimal number of components and can be powered wirelessly by a smartphone. The innovation opens the door for faster and more affordable at-home medical testing.

The researchers' paper is published in Nature Communications, a peer-reviewed, open access, scientific journal published by Nature Research. Researchers are also working to commercialize the technology.

Microfluidics involves the study and manipulation of liquids at a very small scale. One of the most popular applications in the field is developing "lab-on-a-chip" technology, or the ability to create devices that can diagnose diseases from a very small biological sample, blood or urine, for example.

Scientists already have portable devices for diagnosing some conditions - rapid COVID-19 antigen tests, for one. However, a big roadblock to engineering more sophisticated diagnostic chips that could, for example, identify the specific strain of COVID-19 or measure biomarkers like glucose or cholesterol, is the fact that they need so many moving parts.

Chips like these would require materials to seal the liquid inside, pumps and tubing to manipulate the liquid, and wires to activate those pumps - all materials that are difficult to scale down to the micro level. Researchers at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities were able to create a microfluidic device that functions without all of those bulky components.

"Researchers have been extremely successful when it comes to electronic device scaling, but the ability to handle liquid samples has not kept up," said Sang-Hyun Oh, a professor in the University of Minnesota Twin Cities Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and senior author of the study. "It's not an exaggeration that a state-of-the-art, microfluidic lab-on-a-chip system is very labor intensive to put together. Our thought was, can we just get rid of the cover material, wires, and pumps altogether and make it simple?"

Many lab-on-a-chip technologies work by moving liquid droplets across a microchip to detect the virus pathogens or bacteria inside the sample. The University of Minnesota researchers’ solution was inspired by a peculiar real-world phenomenon with which wine drinkers will be familiar - the "legs," or long droplets that form inside a wine bottle due to surface tension caused by the evaporation of alcohol.

Using a technique pioneered by Oh’s lab in the early 2010s, the researchers placed tiny electrodes very close together on a 2 cm by 2 cm chip, which generate strong electric fields that pull droplets across the chip and create a similar "leg" of liquid to detect the molecules within.

Because the electrodes are placed so closely together (with only 10 nanometers of space between), the resulting electric field is so strong that the chip only needs less than a volt of electricity to function. This incredibly low voltage required allowed the researchers to activate the diagnostic chip using near-field communication signals from a smartphone, the same technology used for contactless payment in stores.

This is the first time researchers have been able to use a smartphone to wirelessly activate narrow channels without microfluidic structures, paving the way for cheaper, more accessible at-home diagnostic devices.

"This is a very exciting, new concept," said Christopher Ertsgaard, lead author of the study and a recent CSE alumnus (ECE Ph.D. ‘20). "During this pandemic, I think everyone has realized the importance of at-home, rapid, point-of-care diagnostics. And there are technologies available, but we need faster and more sensitive techniques. With scaling and high-density manufacturing, we can bring these sophisticated technologies to at-home diagnostics at a more affordable cost."

Oh's lab is working with Minnesota startup company GRIP Molecular Technologies, which manufactures at-home diagnostic devices, to commercialize the microchip platform. The chip is designed to have broad applications for detecting viruses, pathogens, bacteria, and other biomarkers in liquid samples.

"To be commercially successful, in-home diagnostics must be low-cost and easy-to-use," said Bruce Batten, founder and president of GRIP Molecular Technologies. "Low voltage fluid movement, such as what Professor Oh's team has achieved, enables us to meet both of those requirements. GRIP has had the good fortune to collaborate with the University of Minnesota on the development of our technology platform. Linking basic and translational research is crucial to developing a pipeline of innovative, transformational products."

Ertsgaard CT, Yoo D, Christenson PR, Klemme DJ, Oh SH.
Open-channel microfluidics via resonant wireless power transfer.
Nat Commun. 2022 Apr 6;13(1):1869. doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-29405-2

Most Popular Now

Open Call HORIZON-MISS-2022-CANCER-01-04…

The overall goal of the Mission on Cancer[1] and the Europe's Beating Cancer Plan[2] includes a better quality of life for patients and their families living with, and after, cancer. Project...

Researchers Use AI to Predict Cancer Ris…

An artificial intelligence (AI) tool helps doctors predict the cancer risk in lung nodules seen on CT, according to a new study published in the journal Radiology. Pulmonary nodules appear as...

Insilico Medicine Raises $60 Million in …

Insilico Medicine, a clinical-stage end-to-end artificial intelligence (AI)-driven drug discovery company, announced today that it has completed a $60 million Series D financing from a syndicate of global investors with...

Speech Analysis App Predicts Worsening H…

A voice analysis app used by heart failure patients at home recognises fluid in the lungs three weeks before an unplanned hospitalisation or escalation in outpatient drug treatment. The late...

Siemens Healthineers and Penta Hospitals…

Penta Hospitals International, the largest multi-national hospital chain in Central and Eastern Europe, agreed a strategic partnership with Siemens Healthineers valued at over 30 million euros. Penta Hospitals International operates...

Screening for Diabetic Retinopathy Prove…

Both telemedicine and community screening for diabetic retinopathy (DR) in rural and urban settings are cost-effective in China, and telemedicine screening programs are more cost-effective, according to a study led...

KTU Researchers Investigate the Links Be…

In recent years Alzheimer's disease has been on the rise throughout the world and is rarely diagnosed at an early stage when it can still be effectively controlled. Using artificial...

Researchers Develop Smartphone-Powered M…

A University of Minnesota Twin Cities research team has developed a new microfluidic chip for diagnosing diseases that uses a minimal number of components and can be powered wirelessly by...

Philips' Future Health Index 2022 Report…

Royal Philips (NYSE: PHG, AEX: PHIA), a global leader in health technology, today announced the publication of its Future Health Index (FHI) 2022 report: 'Healthcare hits reset: Priorities shift as...

App Detecting Jaundice in Babies a Succe…

A smartphone app that identifies severe jaundice in newborn babies by scanning their eyes could be a life-saver in areas that lack access to expensive screening devices, suggests a study...

InterSystems Wins Data Driven Product of…

InterSystems, a provider of next-generation solutions for enterprise digital transformation to help customers solve the most critical data challenges, has announced it received the prestigious Data Driven Product of the...