A portable chip that detects everything from food-borne diseases, pathogens and pollution in water, to AIDS, cancer, hepatitis, drug-abuse, and flu in humans in a little over an hour, is set to be commercially released in no more than three years, experts say.

The OptoLabCard European Union-based project, uses a device otherwise known as a “lab-on-a-chip,” making it possible to perform full size laboratory tests on site. The chip, lined with a negative thick photoresist, is more than just cost and time effective.

“The uses for these devices are almost endless…….and the market is huge” said Jesus M. Ruano-Lopez who is the coordinator of the OptoLabCard Project in Spain at Ikerlan-IK4.

Sensors, fluid channels and optical components are all condensed into one chip, which are then used for testing, is a system which has been around but has never been cultivated due to cost and complications involving sample preparation.

“Sample preparation is perhaps the most crucial part but it was abandoned by earlier developers,” Ruano-Lopez stated. “After all, in order to detect the presence of bacteria it is essential to have a reliable sample.”

A sample the size of a small chip (or swab swipe) might produce as few as ten bacteria. In order to defeat the problem of not having a large enough sample the OptoLabCard Project Team came up with a way of concentrating the prototype by replicating the DNA. This is also known as the polymerase chain reaction, or PCR technique.

“By using PCR for sample preparation we can create more concentrated bacteria samples, and because it works with DNA it means that the same device can be used to detect many different types of bacteria and diseases,” Ruano-Lopez said about the chip that was recently used to test fecal samples from hospitals in Europe for salmonella.

The next OptoLabCard Project analysis will test for food-borne disease in Denmark. Experts at the Danish Institute for Food and Veterinary Research will probe chicken farms in search of the campylobacter bacteria, which is widespread in poultry.

Dang Duong Bang who is a senior researcher at the institute says testing for the campylobacter bacteria serves a particularly practical use for this technology. “If the device works as promised and leads to commercial products it will offer major benefits for farmers, processors and especially consumers,” said Duong Bang, who added that gastrointestinal infections caused by campylobacter amount to the equivalent of €600 million in the USA each year.

Other companies involved in the “lab-on-a-chip” production and commercialization include microLIQUID and LabOnFoil. These companies enhance the target of OptoLabCard by exploring small deviations, such as a foil coating for the chip instead of liquid and representation of components involved, called SU-8, commercially, in a more cost-effective light.

Ruano-Lopez says that this kind of work would not only bring down the cost per test by a factor of ten, to between 50 cents and €1.50, but it could lead to the testing of skin patches in detecting and monitoring disease, contamination and drug abuse.

See also:

Disease-detecting lab in the palm of your hand, Cordis Europa
OptoLabCard Project