During the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a group led by Ronald Davis at Stanford Genome Technology Center announced that they have developed a cheap and reusable diagnostic Lab-on-a-Chip (LoC) using an inkjet printer.

With an estimated developing cost of $0.01, this device provides an example of a new technology said to revolutionise medical diagnostics.

Also known as micro total analysis system, LoC is a device that integrates several steps of a laboratory process on a single small device (of only millimeters to a few square centimeters) to achieve automation. These devices typically consist of a chip, often made of glass with fluid channels. Along with the micro-channels, LoC also requires collection of integrated pumps, electrodes, valves, electrical fields, and electronics to become a complete LoC diagnostic system.

LoC finds applications in various fields such as clinical diagnostics, marine sensors, and pollution monitoring. Clinical diagnostics is expected to be the largest market for LoC. Some of the examples of LoC in clinical diagnostics are chips to evaluate sodium in urine, which is critical for kidney patient; and chips to check male fertility. Chips that can detect cancer biomarkers are also being developed. Several LoC’s already have commercialised applications for glucose monitoring and HIV and heart attack detection.

LoC devices also have biomedical and other illustrative applications, including pathogen area, speedy clinical conclusion, electrophoresis, and protein and DNA examination, as well as blood science examination and stream cytometry. The advantages of LoC include low cost, high parallelisation, accuracy, and ease-of-use, with low volume sample required and faster response time / diagnosis. Limitations of LoC include industrialisation, increased signal / noise ratio and requirement of an external system to work.

Despite obstructions constantly associated with commercialisation of advancement, sensible instances of these devices are beginning to appear accessible. Today, LoC demonstrates better-quality performance when compared to conventional technologies. It is expected that LoC will replace the room-sized biotechnological, medical, and chemical laboratories in over a decade.

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Due to its inherent low cost, the new $0.01 device from Stanford has the potential to enhance diagnostic potential globally, especially in developing countries. Much research is being carried out on increasing the use of LoC. Examples include enabling the use of basic LoC functions by using a smart phone for cholesterol testing, label free bio detection, and enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) assays.