An easily portable, cheap credit card sized lab-on-a-chip – the mChip – can detect HIV, syphilis and several other infections as accurately as sophisticated hospital-based equipments can. Developer, Samuel K. Sia, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia Engineering says the device can be used in the remotest parts of the world. It was tested on hundreds of Rwandan patients and is said to be almost 100% accurate.

Sia described it as a microfluidic-based diagnostic device which can carry out complex laboratory assays simply, efficiently and accurately. In Nature Medicine Sia explains how the manipulation of tiny amounts of fluids, known as microfluidics, and nanoparticles can be leveraged effectively to produce a cheap and functional diagnostic device in areas of extremely limited resources.

The team, from Columbia Engineering, carried out tests in Rwanda over a four-year period, along with Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health, as well as three non-governmental organizations. They tested on hundreds of patients.

All you need for the mChip (mobile microfluidic chip) is a small finger prick of blood. Within under 15 minutes the health care professional has clear, objective results that are not influenced to user interpretation.

The mChip considerably reduces delays in getting prompt treatment for patients because it is so fast. Experts say this efficient, low-cost device could revolutionize medical care globally.

Sia said:

“We have engineered a disposable credit card-sized device that can produce blood-based diagnostic results in minutes. The idea is to make a large class of diagnostic tests accessible to patients in any setting in the world, rather than forcing them to go to a clinic to draw blood and then wait days for their results.”

The mChip was the result of a joint venture by Columbia Engineering and Claros Diagnostics Inc., a company Sia founded in 2004. In a communiqué, Columbia Engineering wrote:

“The microchip inside the device is formed through injection molding and holds miniature forms of test tubes and chemicals; the cost of the chip is about $1 and the entire instrument about $100.”

Sia explains that Rwandan pregnant mothers who live in remote areas of the country and are suffering from AIDS and other STDs will benefit from this device. Many of them do not live near a laboratory, clinic or hospital.

Sia said:

“Diagnosis of infectious diseases is very important in the developing world. When you’re in these villages, you may have the drugs for many STDs, but you don’t know who to give treatments to, so the challenge really comes down to diagnostics.”

Claros Diagnostic developed a similar device that can test for prostate cancer. It was approved for use in Europe in 2010.

The Wallace Coulter Foundation and the NIH (National Institutes of Health) helped fund the mChip project.

Written by Christian Nordqvist