TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Aug. 9, 2007 -- A tiny device under development might in the future diagnose illness from a single drop of blood.
Thomas Fischer, an associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Florida State University (FSU), has designed a "lab on a chip" (LoC) -- a tiny device on a microchip that, when exposed to very low magnetic fields, might one day be used as a portable tool for quickly diagnosing a variety of human illnesses. Fischer worked with an FSU postdoctoral associate, Pietro Tierno, and professor Tom H. Johansen of the University of Oslo in Norway.
Thomas Fischer with his "lab on a chip" device. (Image: Bill Lax/FSU Photo Lab)
"Currently, a doctor seeking to help a sick patient may take a blood sample and send it out to a laboratory," Fischer said. "In three or four days, the lab results will come back and the doctor will have a better idea of what ails the patient. With the lab on a chip, however, it might be possible to take a single drop of the patient’s blood, place it on a small chip, and then be able to provide a very quick, inexpensive and -- most important -- accurate diagnosis."
Fischer said the device would work by exposing the blood sample to very low magnetic field oscillations. In so doing, certain microscopic particles within the sample would be manipulated into moving through an array of magnetic bubbles on the surface of the chip. Observing where various particles align themselves then would enable medical professionals to determine the nature of the patient’s illness.
"Single molecules marking the presence or absence of a disease will be attached to magnetic particles a billion times smaller than a marble," Fischer said. "The magnetic traffic system then will guide these particles to different positions on the chip depending on their molecular marking."
Fischer, Tierno and Lars Helseth, an assistant professor at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, have applied for a patent on the LoC. Siemens Medical Solutions of Malvern, Pa., has expressed interest in Fischer's technique and plans are underway to jointly develop the magnetic chip further.
However, Fischer said, much more basic research must be done before such a diagnostic tool is ready for the marketplace. He stressed that science "often is a long, laborious process that can take years to generate results. However, this sort of research is essential if breakthroughs in medicine and the sciences are to occur."
A paper describing the research of Fischer, Tierno and Johansen was recently published in the journal Physical Review Letters.
For more information, visit: www.fsu.com
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