IBM Scientists Reinvent Medical Diagnostic Testing
How can a soggy croissant save your life? In two words, capillary action.
The same scientific phenomena that causes a croissant to soak up coffee or a paper towel to absorb spilled milk has enabled IBM scientists to create a one-step point-of-care-diagnostic test, that can diagnose hundreds of diseases, including one of world's leading causes of death, cardiovascular disease.
Silicon has many uses
Outside of flaky pastries, IBM scientists have re-purposed decades of experience in developing semiconductor wafers to develop a diagnostic test based on an innovative silicon chip that requires less sample volume, is significantly faster, portable and easy to use. The new test intends to give doctors back precious seconds in diagnosing diseases, so they can react in seconds instead of minutes and sometimes hours.
"IBM has vast experience in micro and nano fabrication. We are interested in repurposing this experience in the fields of bio sciences and pharmaceutical research," comments Luc Gervais, one of the scientists working on that project at IBM Research in Zurich.
The diagnostic test is similar to a common pregnancy test where a sample of serum (blood), 50 times smaller than a tear drop, is pippetted onto the chip. In seconds, capillary action takes over pushing the sample through a set of microscopic chambers where it will react with a disease marker bringing to light what doctors need to take a course of action.
The groundbreaking innovation developed by IBM Research - Zurich scientists Luc and Emmanuel Delamarche in collaboration with the University Hospital of Basel in Switzerland is the cover story in the December issue of Lab on a Chip.
All in the chip
The chip, which measures 1 × 5 centimeters, contains sets of micrometer wide channels where the test sample flows through in approximately 15 seconds, several times faster then traditional tests. Uniquely, the filling speed can be adjusted to several minutes when the chip requires additional time to read a more complex disease marker.
The microfludic chip, which is based on nearly three years of research and development, consists of a microscopic path for liquids with five innovative stages.
"This point of care test has achieved the trifecta for medical staff in that it is portable, fast and requires a very small volume of sample," comments Emmanuel Delamarche, scientist, IBM Research - Zurich. "We hope that with our go to market partners the test will become a fixture for consumers to have in their homes and for businesses to have in their workplaces".
Going to market
Proof positive of IBM's strategy of open collaboration, scientists in Zurich followed a “bench to bedside” strategy where ideas from their lab were tested with academic and healthcare partners. This research also would not have been possible without the generous support of KTI/CTI, an organization which fosters innovation in Switzerland.
"This microfluidic chip is the next step in the evolution of point of care devices. We look forward to working with the scientists at IBM Research - Zurich to develop this innovation even further," said Thierry Leclipteux, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Science Officer, Coris BioConcept. With the support of BioWin, an organization dedicated to promoting human health sciences in the Wallonia region of Belgium, Coris BioConcept intends to work closely with IBM to bring the chip to market.
IBM scientists designed the chip with flexibility in mind in both its form and uses. Due to its small size the chip can be embedded in several types of form factors, depending on the application, including a credit card, a pen or something similar to a pregnancy test. Besides diagnosing diseases, the test is also flexible enough to test for chemical and bio hazards.