When a Biochip Lab is not enough: Massively parallel Biochip Labs
Biochip laboratories have been the darlings of augmented health care for half a decade now. Place a pinprick of blood on a credit card sized laboratory, place that laboratory inside a control system no bigger than a shoebox, and the tiny microfluidic channels inside, combined with more traditional circuitry will separate the blood into hundreds of different channels, each testing for a different pathogen or protein signature. In two hours, you have the diagnostic result that previously took two weeks.
Biochip laboratories are a long way from standard equipment in every doctor's office, of course. The technology has left the lab, but only just. Still, there is plenty of room for improvement. After all, what do you do when testing hundreds of samples all at once, is just not enough? Why you increase the throughput!
Without increasing the size, in an attempt to speed up testing of large numbers of chemical reactions for potential drug candidates, scientists at UCLA have developed a new microfluidic biochip capable of performing 1,024 simultaneous tests. Ten times the fluidic channel capacity, no increase in size.
The actual biochip here is of course the size of a postage stamp. All the rest are input tubes, linked to samples. There is the possibility that one day all samples will sit on the chip, but for now, size is not that great an issue, speed is.
While traditionally only a few chemical reactions could be produced on a chip, the research team pioneered a way to instigate multiple reactions, thus offering a new method to quickly screen which drug molecules may work most effectively with a targeted protein enzyme. In other words, drug testing on an unprecedented scale, and each of the tests took just hours to complete, rather than a full day, the traditional way.
Currently the results are processed by a PC, and then analysed by hand, but the researchers believe they can automate this part of the process as well. The net saving in time, whilst preserving accuracy, is incalculable.
The precious enzyme molecules required for a single en situ click reaction in a traditional lab now can be split into hundreds of duplicates for performing hundreds of reactions in parallel, thus revolutionising the laboratory process, reducing reagent consumption and accelerating the process for identifying potential drug candidates," said study author Hsian-Rong Tseng, a researcher at UCLA's Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging, an associate professor of molecular and medical pharmacology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
Next steps for the team include exploring the use of this microchip technology for other screening reactions in which chemicals and material samples are in limited supply - for example, with a class of protein enzymes called kinases, which play critical roles in the malignant transformation of cancer.