Scientists at Stanford University have developed a flexible computer chip which functions like a “lab on a chip,” allowing doctors to test samples for a variety of different cell types or diseases, and the whole thing only costs about one cent to print out. The extremely low cost device can be printed on a standard inkjet printer–with the right kind of ink, of course–and has the potential to revolutionize diagnostics by making it much easier, faster, and cheaper to diagnose patients.
For example, in many low income nations, breast cancer survival rates hover around 40%–half the rate in wealthier nations. This is because patients aren’t diagnosed early enough for treatment. The same goes for diseases like malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV. Diagnostics are currently too expensive for some doctors to have access to, or they require equipment that is too far away. This new chip could change all of that.
It could also be a boon to researchers because it’s much easier to make some of these chips and use them to test samples than it is to acquire more complicated machines. In fact, the chip essentially replaces a number of different machines, some of which run as much a $100,000 to purchase. Authors of the paper announcing the new technology maintain that it could “allow scientists and clinician to potentially analyze more cells in shorter time periods, manipulate stem cells to achieve efficient gene transfer, and develop cost-effective ways to diagnose diseases.” That’s quite a lot of potential for such a small and easy to produce device.
While the benefits for medicine are obvious, it likely has broader scientific applications as well and could be useful in developing biofuels or studying the effects of pollution on organisms. Things that might otherwise be too cost-prohibitive if researchers have to use existing and far more expensive technology could become a reality.