Lab on a Chip Could Monitor Health, Germs and Pollutants

Rutgers University

June, 2017
Lab on a Chip Could Monitor Health, Germs and Pollutants
An artists' rendition of microparticles flowing through a channel and passing through electric fields, where they are detected electronically and barcode-scanned. Credit: Ella Marushchenko and Alexander Tokarev/Ella Maru Studios

Rutgers University engineers have invented biosensor technology – known as a lab on a chip – which involves electronically barcoding microparticles, giving them a bar code that identifies them. The technology could be used in hand-held or wearable devices to monitor your health and exposure to dangerous bacteria, viruses and pollutants.

“This is really important in the context of personalized medicine or personalized health monitoring,” said Mehdi Javanmard, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. “Our technology enables true labs on chips. We’re talking about platforms the size of a USB flash drive or something that can be integrated onto an Apple Watch, for example, or a Fitbit.”

Over the past decades, research on biomarkers – such as proteins or DNA molecules – has revealed a complex nature of the molecular mechanisms behind human disease. That has increased the need to test bodily fluids for numerous biomarkers simultaneously.

“One biomarker is often insufficient to pinpoint a specific disease because of the heterogeneous nature of various types of diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and inflammatory disease,” said Javanmard. “To get an accurate diagnosis and accurate management of various health conditions, you need to be able to analyze multiple biomarkers at the same time.”

While current optical instruments are the current state-of-the-art technology for measuring biomarkers, they’re far too large to wear or be portable. Electronic detection of the microparticles, as done for the first time, allows for compact measuring instruments suitable for wearable devices.

“Imagine a small tool that could analyze a swab sample of what’s on the doorknob of a bathroom or front door and detect influenza or a wide array of other virus particles,” Javanmard said. “Imagine ordering a salad at a restaurant and testing it for E. coli or Salmonella bacteria.”

To learn more about this project at Rutgers, click here.

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