Microfluidics is defined as the precise control and manipulation of fluids on the sub-mm length scale, but when coupled with microelectronics and applied to blood analysis, an innovative device has been created to not only improve, but speed up the analysis of human blood, with doctors able to receive results of blood tests within minutes using a mini laboratory that fits in the palm of the hand.
Next generation Microfluidics has been developed by Sharp Labs Europe in partnership with Southampton University in the UK with the hope of implementing their device in the not too distant future. Ben Hadwen, a research supervisor in the Health and Energy Technology Group at Sharp Labs Europe is the man charged with leading the day-to-day research and development, and he is hopeful the technology will have a lasting impact:
“Imagine this. At the moment, when you go to the doctor’s, he thinks you are ill and he wants you to have a blood test,” Hadwen explains. “But he has to send the sample to the hospital and then you have to wait two or three days to get the results. Wouldn’t it be great if he could do that test during your appointment in the surgery and get an instant result of several complicated things.”
“What we have developed is methods of doing the chemistry and the chemical biology and testing the results on one portable device. One of the bottlenecks previously in transporting diagnostics onto a mobile platform is the ability to be able to handle the complicated scale of testing. In order to be able to take that technology out of the lab and onto a portable device you need to think about how you might manipulate small amounts of liquid. Thinking outside the box you can use electric fields to move droplets of liquid – this project is an extension of that concept.”
“What is revolutionary is the ability to do testing there and then when you need it; so you can get an instant diagnosis. For people with long-term diseases who need to be monitored all the time, this technology could be really useful in terms of real time patient and health management. The potential has been limited for a while due to the lack of programmability. What Sharp has helped do is make each individual device completely programmable.”