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Switch to CAD Technology Greatly Improves Lab-On-A-Chip Capability

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 12 May 2014
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The lab-on-a-chip holds potential for reducing cost of medical diagnostics while expanding access to health care. Now scientists have developed computer aided design (CAD) software to enable far more than one or two tests on a single chip.

In the near future healthcare professionals may be able to routinely run clinical lab tests almost instantly on a digital microfluidic machine about the size of credit card. These lab-on-a-chips (LOCs) would not only be quick—results available in minutes—but also inexpensive and portable. They could be used at point-of-care, and even at long distance from the nearest medical clinic.

But as powerful as they may be, they could be far better, said Shiyan Hu, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Michigan Technological University (MTU; Houghton, MI, USA). Current LOCs can generally run no more than a test or two because the chips are designed manually. If the LOCs were made using computer-aided design (CAD), you could run dozens of tests with, for example, a single drop of blood. “In a very short time, you could test for many conditions,” said Prof. Hu; “This really would be an entire lab on a chip.” With PhD student Chen Liao, Prof. Hu has taken the first step. “We have developed software to design the hardware,” he said.

Their work, described in, and featured on the cover of, the March, 2014, edition of the journal IEEE Transactions on Nanobiosciences, focuses on routing a droplet of blood or other fluid through each test on the chip efficiently while avoiding contamination. A key part in LOC CAD is physical-level synthesis. It includes the LOC placement and routing, where placement is to determine the physical location and the starting time of each operation, and routing is to transport each droplet from the source to the destination.

“It has taken us four years to do the software, but to manufacture the LOC would be inexpensive,” said Prof. Hu; “The materials are very cheap, and the results are more accurate than a conventional lab’s.” Prof. Hu plans to fabricate their own biochip using their software.

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