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Using Biolabs With Interchangable Chips

A biochip is a wafer shaped chip, which is partially a mass of computer circuitry, and partially a maze of tiny canals for fluid.

They are basically laboratories on silicon wafers. The maze of tiny canals are usually filled with blood from a patient. Alternatively, they may be filled up with a urine sample, stomach acids, bile, or any other fluidic substance being tested. The tiny canals are arranged in repeating patterns, with one way valves, allowing fluid in, but not back out agai. These patterns are basically miniaturised test sites arranged in a micro array such that several thousand experiments can be performed on the same sample in parallel.

In the same length of time as it takes to perform one test, as many as 2,000 are performed instead; each looking for the presence of a different element, immune response, or functional level.

Like a computer chip that can perform millions of mathematical operations in one second, a biochip can perform thousands of biological reactions in a few seconds.

Increasingly, biochips are being used in patient diagnosis, with a dedicated biochip performing more tests on a sample in an hour than a full blood workup does in days.

Currently, there are several biochip lab devices available. Each takes a small number of compatible, disposable biochips, which slot into the main unit, each taking a fluid sample from a different patient. The lab powers the biochips, maintains a sterile environment, and controls the fluid gates for each sample.

When a given biochip circuit is complete, the lab reads the full output from the chip's on-board circuitry, and processes it for output. The chip itself is removed from it's slot and thrown away.


A biochip lab for arthritis testing; takes five biochips

Whilst such labs are a tremendous boon to diagnosis, and their small size does make them easy for a doctor's surgery to store - the one above is about the size of a shoebox - the issue of cost does come into it. Consider the following: you require one biochip lab to check for the cause of arthritis, one to check for the reason for lethargy, another to check the type of flu a patient has, another to check for pregnancy complications, a fifth to check for non-presecribed drugs… You either end up with a surgery full of shoebox sized laboratories, or the practice has to think carefully about which conditions it can afford to check for precisely, and which it will have to do the old-fashioned way.

At the moment, biochip labs and biochips work in pairs. The lab is precisely built to the spec of the biochips that slot in it. Considering that all the control circuitry for the biochip is on the biochip itself, there is no reason it has to be this way.

If the biochips are increased in size, the cost of making them will increase. However, if this additional size is used for ROM chips which interface with thee lab's own circuitry in a standardised way, then the additional size is worthwhile. ROM chips tell the biochip lab the precise configuration of the biochip, with instructions how to activate it, then it becomes possible to place a mix of biochips in the same lab; the processing instructions are on the chip, rather than in the lab itself. This creates the possibility that the same lab could run a series of different chips for the same patient at one.

It's size might become larger than a shoebox, yet each practice would require fewer biochip laboratories.

As an added incentive, if a single lab plus a range of biochips is available, those practices that had not purchased biochip labs, unsure which to get, would purchase - overall sales likely increase tenfold.

References

BioChips: A Hospital in a shoebox
http://www.virtualworldlets.net/Resources/Hosted/Resource.php?Name=Biochip

Rapid diagnosis
http://www.virtualworldlets.net/Archive/IndividualNews.php?News=1666

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