Building a Hand-held Lab-on-a-chip To Simplify Blood Tests
A cell phone-sized blood-count machine requiring less blood than a mosquito bite will make blood tests easier for many patients, from neonatal units to astronauts in space.
Funded by the National Space Biomedical Research Institute (NSBRI), researchers at the California Institute of Technology, the University of California, Los Angeles, and IRIS International, Inc., are working to create a hand-held device that provides accurate appraisals of blood chemistry using minute blood samples. The process takes about two minutes.
"Analysis of blood composition is how doctors test for infections and deficiencies in the immune system, monitor health and make medical diagnoses," said Dr. Yu-Chong Tai, investigator on NSBRI's Technology Development Team. "Looking ahead to future missions to the moon and Mars, astronauts will need to perform simple blood tests to get up-to-the-minute information on their health."
Presently, the slow process of assessing blood composition requires bulky counting machines, trained technicians and a large amount of blood (approximately two syringes or ten milliliters), so analysis cannot be done in space. To assess their physiology, astronauts draw blood samples in orbit for analysis after their return. "In addition to space medicine, the technology could be used in neonatal care since large blood draws are not possible with infants," Tai added.
"Normal blood-count machines are large to accommodate many samples and multiple tests, so to be safe, technicians take more blood from a patient than is actually needed. Since our goal is to assess blood composition on a molecular level, we only need a tiny amount," said Tai, professor of electrical engineering and bioengineering at Caltech. "By miniaturizing the counting machine, we are