"Lab in a needle" could streamline medical diagnoses

The lab in a needle features two key lab in a chip components that allow for rapid liver toxicity tests(Credit: NTU Singapore)

What if it were possible to squeeze the diagnostic ability of a lab into a single needle? Scientists have come up with a self-contained lab in a needle-like device which is claimed capable of delivering results to common lab tests instantly. The device could potentially allow doctors to diagnose and treat conditions faster and make it easier to conduct diagnostic tests anywhere.

To create their device, scientists at Houston Methodist, in collaboration with researchers in Singapore, made use of the concept of a lab on a chip; a small microfluidic chip capable of carrying out the functions of a routine laboratory diagnostic test. The goal was to create one medical device capable of collecting and evaluating patient samples, testing them and then displaying the results.

The device uses liver samples from a biopsy. The samples are ground up, and the DNA components refined and extracted. These are sent to a separate part of the device, divided into test wells and toxicity tests performed. A camera records an image of each test well and the technician looks for evidence of toxic concentrations.

The researchers claim that the technique still yields accurate results while significantly reducing manpower, time and overall costs. And there's no need for any more wet laboratory work. For example, the device can test for liver toxicity in around 30 minutes compared to the several days it would take for a lab to return the test results, including the time taken for a physician to interpret and communicate them.

It's the first time, according to the team, where all the necessary processes where successfully integrated into a single device. The team plans to integrate both the sample preparation and analysis chips into a single cost effective lab in a needle device, that can be scaled up and mass produced.

"This will enable the mobile technology to be expanded to test for a number of health conditions in outpatient settings or outside hospitals," said Zhiping Wang, Ph.D., a principal scientist in microfluidics and Director of Research Programs at the Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology, a research institute of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research.

The device was featured in a recent issue of the the Royal Society of Chemistry's Lab on a Chip.

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