A new “blood-barcode chip” developed by researchers at the California Institute of Technology promises to revolutionize diagnostic medical testing. In less than 10 minutes, and using just a pinprick’s worth of blood, the chip can measure the concentrations of dozens of proteins, including those that herald the presence of diseases like cancer and heart disease.
The device, known as the Integrated Blood-Barcode Chip, or IBBC, is about the size of a microscope slide and is made out of a glass substrate covered with silicone rubber. The chip’s surface is molded to contain a microfluidics circuit. The circuit is a system of microscopic channels through which the pinprick of blood is introduced, protein-rich blood plasma is separated from whole blood, and a panel of protein biomarkers is measured from the plasma.
As the blood flows, plasma is skimmed into narrow channels that branch off from the main channel. This part of the chip is designed as if it were a network of resistors, which optimizes plasma separation. The plasma then flows across the “barcodes,” each 20 micrometers across and patterned with a different antibody that allows it to capture a specific protein from the plasma passing over.
The chip offers significant improvement over the cost and speed of standard lab tests that require one or more vials of blood from a patient’s arm and the extra time waiting for test results.