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A New "Medical Lab On a Chip" For Every Home?

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the a-mischievous-sibling-could-have-fun-with-this dept.

Biotech 56

destinyland writes "NWU professor Chad Mirkin discusses his company's new 'lab-on-a-chip' technology — the ability to automatically treat a blood sample with chemicals on a microchip, quickly detecting markers for diseases and other anomalies. The quick 'bio-barcode' test creates the possibility of a medical diagnostic system in every home, since it offers greater sensitivity than current tests with simpler instruments and at lower costs. This is not a futuristic technology; four tests already have received FDA clearances, so 'They're here.... It's in hospitals around the country. Really, what we are waiting for is just an increasing menu [of tests]... It will scale rapidly.'" Reader Trintech sent word of a similar chip developed by Fraunhofer reseachers, writing, "The core element of this new chip is a disposable cartridge made of plastic which can be fitted with various types of sensors. To perform an assay, the doctor only has to place the relevant substances (reagents, etc.) into the cartridge and the test then takes place automatically. It is the researchers' hope that, by using this chip, medical patients will be able to get their lab results in a matter of minutes instead of days."

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Error 503 Service Unavailable (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800180)

It's because you cock smoking teabaggers didn't pay your $699 License fee! FIX IT!!!

Re:Error 503 Service Unavailable (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800182)

This man speaks the truth

There an app for that (2, Funny)

Albinoman (584294) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800216)

By waving this battery shaped object randomly around a person while is makes a soothing whirring noise your bluetooth enabled phone can give instant readings raging from various forms of neural degradation, radiation poisoning, and space parasite infections.
//Tricorder not as far away as we think.

Re:There an app for that (1)

Captain Splendid (673276) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800224)

Gonna burn some karma for this, but I can't post a JE, so here goes:

Anyone wanna comment on when these damn 503 errors will be done with?

Error 503 Service Unavailable (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800244)

These assholes are too busy being teabagged to pay attention to their damn job. I'm blaming pudge, even if he had nothing to do with it, simply because he's as moronic as it gets.. and lame as hell besides... Where's a death penalty when you need one? This is at least a water boarding offense... FIX IT!!!

OT: 410 Gone (1)

complacence (214847) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800272)

That would necessitate them actually being aware of any issue.

After community moderation got introduced, Taco realized that once story submission was democratized too, Slashdot could basically run unattended. There hasn't been anyone in the office since the Firehose went live.

Keep your fingers crossed Taco finds new interest in WoW because he left his login at the office.

Re:There an app for that (1)

moteyalpha (1228680) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800324) [] slashdot interest
I am certainly burning karma too, but really where is slashdot heading.

Re:There an app for that (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800424)

Interesting page, thanks. Now I know where the traffic is going []

Re:There an app for that (1)

moteyalpha (1228680) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800486)

That was very informative. So here is another interesting one.
Microsoft Apple Ubuntu []

Re:There an app for that (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800280)

Please, ignore this device I am waving around you. Hmmm... You are denied for insurance by our company for no specific reason.

...seriously (1)

JesterJosh (1615053) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800652)

Except they just rewrote how pre-existing conditions are handled. If I knew how I'd mark you as a troll.

Re:...seriously (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800730)

Yes, you can't be rejected because of a pre-existing condition. But most people take this to mean that the insurance company has to accept you, which is not the truth. They could reject you for any number of reasons [too short, too old, adopted, perhaps parent's medical history, you have ink on your hands, you won't put out for the insurance agent].

Re:...seriously (1)

JesterJosh (1615053) | more than 4 years ago | (#31802938)

Actually part of the pre-existing rewrite is that they can't even ask about your parent's medical history as that could be construed as pre-existing.

Re:There an app for that (1)

Excelcia (906188) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800426)

Tricorder not as far away as we think.

But it is. At least, it's no closer because of this research. This is nothing different from a home pregnancy test, or a glucometer. It's still reagent-based testing. Expensive single-use cartridges with complex enzymes, nanoparticles, or other chemicals. It's really just another way to lock people into using some sort of proprietary consumable. Here's a prediction: the little portable computers that "read" the tests will be sold dirt cheap, or given away, and they will all come with a single "sample" test cartridge.

When these "labs on a chip" can perform tests without consumable reagents, then I'll believe we're close to a tricorder. Until then, I'd rather see people go to labs to get tests done the old way.

Is it cold under that wet blanket? (2, Interesting)

JesterJosh (1615053) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800686)

Why would you rather see people go to labs to get tests done the old way when "patients will be able to get their lab results in a matter of minutes instead of days." The "expensive single-use" cartridges are made of plastic and can be fitted with multiple sensors, making them inexpensive and while perhaps usable only once they perform a battery of tests and in a fraction of the time. This is rad.

A nurse taking the tests is hard to replace (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31801418)

If you are feeling sick and go to a clinic, a nurse will take the tests. She might (depending on where you live) not have as much training as would be ideal and (a lot bigger risk) she might have too much work to notice everything but she is still a health care professional. She spends a lot of time around people who are sick to varying decrees and most likely learns to notice when something seems off. What if there is a problem with the results? (A wrong diagnose, too mild diagnose, etc.) When at a clinic, a nurse (or a doctor) looks at the results you get and could well notice if something seems off. At home, you must trust that the machine never makes an error.

Re:A nurse taking the tests is hard to replace (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31818280)

Why would a nurse be doing the testing in the first place? Usually poorly paid medical assistants or phlebotomists draw the blood, not highly paid nurses. Not that nurses don't draw blood but having a nurse draw blood is like having a sysadmin help an end user with an Outlook problem. I know it happens but usually a computer tech or help desk would help with an Outlook issue, sysadmins have more important things to do. And usually medical lab technicians (MLT's) or Medical Technologists (MT's) are the ones who receive the blood and do the testing on it. I have NEVER heard of a nurse doing labwork on drawn blood. It is almost always an MLT or MT. In some states phlebotomists are allowed to do some simple bloodwork in addition to drawing blood.

Re:Is it cold under that wet blanket? (1)

lazy_playboy (236084) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801504)

Yay for over-sensitive/under-specific testing of a healthy population for relatively rare diseases?

Re:Is it cold under that wet blanket? (1)

JesterJosh (1615053) | more than 4 years ago | (#31803010)

Since you can't be trusted to RTFA... "This kind of system may soon lead to handheld devices capable of diagnosing a wide range of disease in minutes, using only a small sample of blood."

Re:Is it cold under that wet blanket? (2, Insightful)

PSandusky (740962) | more than 4 years ago | (#31804768)

Since you can't be trusted to RTFA...

"This kind of system may soon lead to handheld devices capable of diagnosing a wide range of disease in minutes, using only a small sample of blood."

Okay, so in the Bayesian sense, what's the false positive rate/posterior probability on all of those diseases? Testing everyone for the same battery might not be the best thing in the world.

Why bother with assays (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800228)

Whole genome sequencing is only $12,500.00 today, down from $300M a decade ago, and $200K two years ago. In a few more years, the price will be down below $1000.00. The price is falling exponentially. In a decade or so each person will have their own personal genome sequenced routinely for $100.00. They'll be able to search for any virus or allele they want using their home computer on their own genomic data.

Re:Why bother with assays (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800256)

True, but not to sure how effective it would show up infections and that which are not in your DNA but only in your blood stream.

You won't need to. (1)

JesterJosh (1615053) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800702)

Well hopefully the technology will have progressed to the point that we'll have nanobots in our bloodstream testing the waters for infections and whatnot then reporting to our home computers.

Re:You won't need to. (1)

John Hasler (414242) | more than 4 years ago | (#31808122)

> ...reporting to our home computers.

Which, being under the control of bots, will pass the information on to the masters in Ukraine who will download templates for suitable viruses which will be passed on to the nanobots which will synthesize them and infect you. The botmasters will then blackmail you for the cure.

Re:Why bother with assays (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800372)

You won't be able to find infections, structural defects, or any other form of disease with a non-genetic component by searching a genome alone. You realize that genetics are only part of somebody's health, right? A genome can't tell you whether or not somebody's been poisoned or hit by a car.

Re:Why bother with assays (1)

VagaStorm (691999) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801240)

On the other hand, when your hit by a car, geting a blood sample is quite easy.

On a more sereous note, this might be a cushin, if relied to blindly on, since the home test probably wount be as extensive as the one a doctor makes.

WTF (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800230)

What's up with /.
I can't log in
Somethings been fscked up for the past 2 days

Error 503 Service Unavailable

Service Unavailable
Guru Meditation:

XID: 615332863

Re:WTF (1)

blai (1380673) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800402)

april fools!!

Awesome! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800262)

Wow, that's so cool! Gaw!

NIGGER CUNTS (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800298)


suck my thumb a boo boo boo :(

Possible increased error rates (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800340)

This kind of diagnostic technology is great because it will speed lab results and decrease testing costs. A possible downside, however, is an increased error rate. The way things are done now, medical tests are carried out by technicians whose entire job is to make sure the tests are done accurately and with proper technique. With widespread, delocalized use of even the simplest tests by doctors (or people at home) for whom performing these tests is an ancillary or novel task, the possibility for error or misinterpretation skyrockets.

Can you say FDA clearances? (1)

JesterJosh (1615053) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800716)

What is the point of FDA clearances if not to review the test to make sure that the accuracy rate is within standards?

Wake me (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800370)

When it can take a residents bloodsugar without pricking a finger. (or in fact without waking the resident.)

Bayesian probability. (3, Interesting)

the_raptor (652941) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800376)

I think this sort of technology is going to be as useful as Internet self-diagnosis. Most people have multiple "markers for disease" that aren't indicative of real disease or are of non-clinical forms. Bayesian probability* tells us that doing wide screen testing like this will just lead to lots of false positives and unnecessary medical procedures ('cause if the doctor does nothing and it isn't a false positive they will get sued). Some doctor's argue that screening for PSA (prostate specific antigen) causes more Years of Life Lost to unnecessary prostate removals than is saved by catching some cancers early.

Unfortunately the general public is not getting the reality that medicine is not a magic bullet that can detect and cure all disease with 100% accuracy. And counter-intuitively to decrease statistics like Years lost to Disability or Illness we might have to test less.


Re:Bayesian probability. (2, Interesting)

wbackner (1417725) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800768)

That is true false positives are a problem, and it could add to the worry of some of the hypochondriacs out there. However, there are a significant number of people who don't go to regular doctors visits for a variety of reasons. So it is possible having something in the home that could get people out for a full examination if a risk factor is found might be good and outweigh the false positive risk.

Re:Bayesian probability. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31802760)

mod parent up

lots of americans don't have access to regular doctor visits. for them, it's either this or nothing.

Never Underestimate the AMA (1) (745855) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800378)

You think they're going to stand around while technology replaces them?

Re:Never Underestimate the AMA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31800472)

Yup, patents to the "rescue". I mean we need to preserve our current state of perfection so slap some broad patents on these suckers and we can lock away progress for a long long time :D

Related Technology (1)

zmaragdus (1686342) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800514)

There is a related technology that shows great promise for rural medicine, especially in poor and remote places. The concept is based around a small, chemically-treated piece of paper (okay, not technically just a piece of paper, but it helps to visualize it that way) about the size of a postage stamp. A small sample of urine or blood (depending on the type of test) is placed on a receptor point and the blood is sucked across traces to several pads with special chemicals. These chemicals act as basic tests. For example, two urine tests could be for glucose levels and protein levels. The pads will change colors across a spectrum, giving a range of possible readings for each test. The pad can then be photographed with, say, a cellphone with a higher-resolution camera, then that picture can be sent to a computer elsewhere for analysis. The tests themselves are ridiculously cheap compared to typical 1st-world lab tests. []

at home? (1)

astar (203020) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800636)

I suspect the title is nuts, and I did rtfa. I hear the way things are set up in the usa, it is impossible to get medical lab work done without kind of a doctor's scrip. I give this some credence by reflecting on attempts to commercialize easily available HIV tests, as for instance, in taverns. On the other hand, there are home preggo testing kits. maybe someone can sort this out?

Re:at home? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31801574)

In the US, there is a law called CLIA. It requires that complex medical tests be performed by trained laboratory technicians. If you want to sell an at home test, or even a bedside test to be performed by a nurse, it needs to be simple to perform, "CLIA-waived". This page has a link to the list of CLIA-waived tests, You can buy some tests here

It is taken as gospel in the industry that CLIA-waived tests always cost more and are less accurate than laboratory tests. The advantage of CLIA-waived tests is their ease of use and rapid turn around time. For a few problems (Infectious diseases, heart failure) it makes sense to pay for the rapid turn around time, but for the majority of problems (cancers, for instance) a few days does not make a difference in the treatment of the disease.

In Every Toilet (2, Funny)

Doc Ruby (173196) | more than 4 years ago | (#31800926)

I'd buy a toilet with an upgradeable lab chipset that analyzed my health every time I used it. So long as I owned and completely controlled its data, sharing it with medical professionals sueable for privacy violations.

The millennia of humans only wondering "what's that smell?" without really knowing should come to a close in our lifetimes.

CD4 Test (1)

RotateLeftByte (797477) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801074)

Wake me up when this 'widget' can do a CD4 Blood test.
I'm sure that many Leukaemia sufferers will say the same. Having to go to the Hospital rather than the Doctor's Surgery for a CD4 test is a real PITA.

Useless as a home technology (1)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801108)

To perform an assay, the doctor only has to place the relevant substances (reagents, etc) into the cartridge and the test then takes place automatically

By the time you're going to a doctor you may as well get the sample drawn in the doctor's office or a lab. Until you can perform "over the counter" tests with it, it's useless in the home.

I've wanted this for years! (1)

crhylove (205956) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801316)

But then, as an American, something like this might be the closest thing to health care I ever get.

Meh (3, Interesting)

burningcpu (1234256) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801414)

This guy isn't talking about anything new.

The concept of a 'lab on a chip' has been around since at least the early 90's. I know from talking with my my boss that in the 70's, chemists at MIT were expecting tricorder devices to be implemented sometime in the late 80's.

We see some progress in this field, but the ultimate goal of a tricorder device is a long way off. Home pregnancy tests provide a similar functionality, however purpose built for one assay.
With careful planing, an assay can be marketed for use by consumers, but I'm leery of talk of talk about 'one device to rule them all' when it comes to this sort of analysis.

The key is that this sort of analysis is not as simple as throwing a sample through a mass spectrometer and identifying the compounds like Sean Connery in Medicine Man.
Bioanalytical chemistry (which is what this is) is not magic. Physical or chemical information has to be obtained, and this is generally requires the use of reagents such as labeled (with something we can use to detect them, such as radioactive tritium, or a fluorescent compound) antibodies and antigens. I just don't see these sorts of things being sold to consumers in anything but a black box form, where the consumer does not interact with the reagents in a meaningful way. Sort of like how pregnancy tests are done.
This truth implies that each analysis will have its own one shot kit, providing a qualitative assessment of whatever is under investigation. Sure some of the hardware can be externalized, such as a simple fluorescence spectroscopy instrument, but still, cartridges for whatever test will still need to be purchased. Unless this guy has come up with some incredibly radical--and earthshattering analysis techniques, I've got to say he has either been misquoted by the reporter, or he is blowing PR smoke.

Funny coincidence is that I am writing up a research proposal for one of my grad classes with the goal of quantifying Early Prostate Cancer Antigen 2 (EPCA-2) in serum using a microfluidic device using forster resonance energy transfer (FRET) as a detection method. I can see a device commercialized for this purpose, but it would be one shot and limited to this analysis.

Re:Meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31804494)

But pregnancy tests are qualitative (positive, negative or invalid) whereas tumor markers, for example, are quantitative (a number).

Providing someone with information such as "you have a genotype for X-disease" will not always lead to them developing the disease.

I couldn't see this being used at home for genotyping, tumor markers, or even basic lab analysis (CBC or CMP) at home. Regardless of the outcome, the "patient" wouldn't understand what the values mean and would end up presenting to the ER just because the at-home-test said they had an abnormal result that would otherwise not be acted on because its not of concern. (Slightly elevated BUN/Creat after running a few miles and not drinking anything.)

Furthermore, any sort of complex reading methods would require someone who understands how those work to troubleshoot them.

I think basically in the end you end up forming a general laboratory inside the MD's office. Much like things were 10 years ago.

I don't think so (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801694)

the possibility of a medical diagnostic system in every home

      Er no. You realize we doctors don't go to school for 4 or 5 years (and more for specialization) just to gouge people out of their hard earned money, right? While "cheaper" and "more portable" equipment makes it a lot easier to screen a population - the actual DIAGNOSIS can only be made by a physician. Not only do you need to have to be able to read what the machine is telling you - you have to understand why it's telling you what it is, and when not to believe it. You have to assess the whole patient, not just a set of lab results.

      Hurray for the technology. Now how many people will die because of it when they decide they don't need their doctors anymore?

Re:I don't think so (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31802308)

the actual DIAGNOSIS can only be made by a physician.

Diagnosis can be made by anyone, you arrogant cock.

Diabetics diagnose hypo/hyperglycaemia with portable machines, and base their insulin dose on that. People with heart failure can weigh themselves and adjust their diuretics. Cholesterol screening in the workplace can identify those who need to go on a statin.

Tell me how many patient's lives you have saved. You're grossly overestimating your profession, and you sound like the worst type of doctor. I bet you don't listen to your patients either. Mate, you should quit now, you aren't a good doctor, you seem to have no idea about how the world works.

Re:I don't think so (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 4 years ago | (#31805380)

"Against stupidity the very gods themselves contend in vain." -- The Maid of Orleans, Frederich Schiller [] .

The fact that you post this anonymously only makes me laugh louder.

Re:I don't think so (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31815832)

assess the whole patient? Clearly you don't live in the USA.

When I go to the doctor, they ask what is bothering me today, when I start in with the laundry list, they ignore everything after the first three words. When I offer to show them my military medical history, including surgeries, pathology and diagnosis of the rare condition I have, they claim it is 'worthless', prescribe (another) arthritis test for me, when it comes back negative (again) they then tell me the test is not reliable (again) and claim I really have arthritis.

Talk to me about Doctors, and I will tell you all about quacks.

Some confusion? (1)

samael (12612) | more than 4 years ago | (#31801928)

It's interesting that the two highest voted comments here both assume that this is looking at the patient's DNA, whereas the article seems (to me) to be saying that it's looking for the DNA of specific diseases - in order to tell you if you have them.

So next time you're feeling under the weather you can put a few drops of blood into the device and it'll tell you whether you have a cold or smallpox, without you having to trek to the Doctor and possibly waste both time and money.

It will send out your results and then what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31804356)

My feeling is that these DIY home test kits - being computerized of course - will end up having a USB port on them. Plug it into you PC and whoooosh your personal and heretofore private data about whether you might have some genetic disease is gone, up the tubes of the internets and to who-knows-where at the other end. How about your privacy then? The genie is out of the bottle. For all you know, the purveyors of these home test devices might be in league with medical insurance firms.

I think I'd rather trek to the doctor to discuss problems, at least they are bound to a code of practice and privacy.

We need a means to detect of Counterfeit Drugs (1)

PdbAqB (1534237) | more than 4 years ago | (#31802566)

A diagnostic assay would be a solution over and above the current solutions proposed. For example, according to Nature Medicine 16, 348 (2010) the law is responsible the success of counterfeit drugs? Why the law is poor Nature Medicine proposes that the reporting of counterfeit drugs is not mandatory and therefore is underreported. This may be true for the USA where pharmaceuticals are bought online, which is a major distribution source of counterfeit drugs; however, in countries like Australia, this is not a major source of counterfeit drugs. But where is the problem most endemic? In countries such as India, it is a huge problem since the recipients of counterfeit drugs cannot generally buy legitimate drugs through legitimate means. In my mind, the first question arises is how does one know that a drug is counterfeit and therefore know to report? This is the first step. The problem with counterfeit drugs is that they do not contain the pharmaceutical required for its action, or may contain a poison. More laws do not remove the problem There are many laws already available to stop the sale of counterfeit drugs; however, we are not seeing these laws being used. Why? The main problem is detection. How is an individual or even a practitioner to know if a drug is not working? Is it because of the patient’s own response, the profile of the drug (many drugs are not 100% effective in all patients at all times) or because a drug is counterfeit? Increasing the policing of counterfeit drugs by putting a mandatory obligation onto reporting of counterfeit drugs will not address the above problems. This really in turn is making a recipient of a counterfeit drug a criminal if they do not report it. Further increasing policing of reporting has a huge cost with little return. Use reward, not the stick! I believe that increased reporting is necessary, but not by imposing penalties. A reward for reporting counterfeits would have a much more positive outcome for all concerned. This will help stop counterfeit drug trafficking, because it: 1. will not cause criminalisation the innocent recipients, thus further expanding the black market; and 2. will help the recipients of counterfeit drugs, who are the most vulnerable due, afford the legitimate channels for legitimate drugs. Further, industry should support the development of readily available objective tools for proper screening of drugs to allow recipients to determine the legitimacy of drugs they have received, thereby facilitating the reporting of counterfeits. []

let the HP printer division handle this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#31802748)

disposable plastic cartridges, chemicals, and computers, to me it sounds like something the HP printer division could get on the market in no time. the testing unit would be inexpensive, of course the replacement cartridges would cost a fortune.

I see nothing practical here ... (1)

constantnormal (512494) | more than 4 years ago | (#31813450)

... as the simple plastic strips used by diabetics to monitor their blood glucose levels daily runs about a dollar per strip, and provides only an accuracy of roughly plus-or-minus 20%. And that's using a meter that they give away, the profits are so great on the plastic strips.

Given that the machinery to process this "disposable plastic cartridge" is going to be fairly costly, the per-use charge seems likely to be expensive enough to preclude use of this as a coarse diagnostic filter, which would seem to be its greatest usefulness.

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