BioChips: A Hospital in a shoebox
Over the past few years, increasing fuss has centred round the notion of biochips, and how they are fostering a new era for medicine. But what exactly is a biochip?
A biochip is a computer chip, that is a mix of circuits for electrical signals, and tiny canals for fluid, usually blood.
There are many different definitions for a biochip. Some class biochips as those RFID chips injected into humans and animals. A few consider a petridish full of lab-grown rat brain cells hooked to a pc as a biochip. Others regard prosthetic interface chips as biochips, whilst still others lab-on-a-chips to be biochips. So who is right?
Well, all of them. The standard definition for a biochip is a chip that has both inorganic, and organic components. However, the original meaning was a lab-on-a-chip, and is the one covered here.
Biochips came about through the ongoing push of technology for miniaturisation and automation. They allow biotechnologists to begin packing their traditionally bulky sensing tools into smaller and smaller spaces, using biochips as miniature, mass production laboratories, each capable of or thousands of simultaneous biochemical reactions.
They are basically the pack mules of brute-force diagnosis.
Whilst biochip science is still fairly primitive, a number of very potent uses are already available, or under review, for both health care, and terrorism security.
As biochips evolve into more and more powerful labs, they will be able to identify an ever increasing number of conditions. Combined with gene mapping, and protein sequencing, both of which are evolving at a frantic pace, it will not be many years before biochip labs are available for the home, that can diagnose a wide range of health conditions from a pinprick.
These will be the beginnings of the 'hospital in a home' that true long-term virtual existence immersion requires - to sustain the body in long periods when it is not really used by it's occupant. Biochips will be able to identify the early signs of a condition for the computer to treat, or, more likely, at least at first, transmit to the GP or hospital for treatment advice.
Eventually, biochip systems will likely cut out the majority of minor trips to the doctor, greatly easing GP workloads, and allowing them to concentrate on more serious complaints that blood work cannot help identify.
In security, biochips will become invaluable for testing and identifying unknown substances quickly and cheaply.
In rivers and sewers they will be able to identify pollutants or banned substance disposal on site, and without requiring a human present. Combined with a sensor network, they would swiftly flag up warnings for the health board to investigate.
In short, wherever there are fluids, there is an application for biochips. Biochips are already here, and advancing at a swift pace. The next decade is going to be fun.
Rapid diagnosis, VWN News, 23/09/2006
biochip - a definition from Whatis.com
Polymer-Based Lab-on-a-Chip System Development
Biochip - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia