A team of researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, Dublin City University in Ireland and Universidad de Valparaíso Chile have joined forces to develop a device that will enable doctors to diagnose diseases within minutes via blood tests. The new device is able to process and test blood without the use of added components. The said device is called SIMBAS, an acronym for Self-powered Integrated Microfluidic Blood Analysis System.
The design of the SIMBAS chip allows it to process five separate whole blood samples by separating the plasma from the blood cells add then analyzing for the presence of biotin or vitamin B7. In order for the SIMBAS biochip to work, the team of researchers took advantage of the laws of microscale physics to speed up the testing process that would usually take hours or even days in a traditional lab.
The SIMBAS chip makes use of tiny trenches that are patterned under microfluidic channels the width of a human hair. When whole blood is placed on the chip’s inlets, heavier red and white blood cells settle into the trenches, separating them from the clear blood plasma. The blood movement makes use of a process called the degas-driven flow.
To make the degas-driven flow possible, the air molecules inside the porous polymeric device are taken out by placing the device in a vacuum-sealed package. When this seal is broken, the device is put into normal atmospheric conditions. As the air molecules are reabsorbed into the device, this creates a pressure difference which drives the blood fluid to flow into the chip.
In their experiments, the team of researchers was able to capture more than 99 percent of whole blood cells and make them move into the trenches as separate into their selective components using the same method. And with the biochip able to work without the need for external power or other extra components, it may someday provide a more convenient means not only to separate different blood components but also to provide a means to diagnose diseases like TB and HIV in just a matter of minutes.
According to Luke Lee, UC Berkeley professor of bioengineering and co-director of the Berkeley Sensor and Actuator Center and the study’s principal investigator, “This is a very important development for global healthcare diagnostics. Field workers would be able to use this device to detect diseases such as HIV or tuberculosis in a matter of minutes.”
“The fact that we reduced the complexity of the biochip and used plastic components makes it much easier to manufacture in high volume at low cost. Our goal is to address global health care needs with diagnostic devices that are functional, cheap and truly portable,” Lee further added.