If you need to take a blood test in a small city, you will probably be told that your blood will be shipped to where it has a big lab and can run complicated tests. Having more labs in a city also comes with significantly more costs, so wouldn’t it be better to shrink down a big lab to a tiny size and able to run disease diagnostic, DNA amplification and detection, proteomics and cell biology? (Casquillas, 2021)
The term ‘lab on a chip’ was created in 1979 at Stanford University for gas chromatography. However, major research began in the late 80s with the development of microfluidics and microfabrication for polymer chips. Now, the ability to fabricate polymer microchips has made many laboratories begin their research into lab-on-a-chip technologies. (Casquillas, 2021) Although the field is having more exciting proof-of-concept devices, the majority of LOC technologies are not yet ready for commercial use. Plus, physical effects such as surface roughness become much more significant on a micro-scale which could result in complications that would not happen in traditional processes. (Hyde, 2020)
The goal of lab-on-a-chip devices is to integrate one or more laboratory functions into a chip only a few square centimeters or even millimeters in size. These devices are closely linked to the study of microfluidics and nanotechnology (Schonberger Markus, 2016). These are also a subset of microelectromechanical systems. Microfluidic technologies allow millions of microchannels to be manufactured on a single chip; each channel is in micrometers. These microchannels allow picolitres of fluids to be handled as well as manipulation of biochemical reactions. These tiny chips also require integrated pumps, electrodes, valves, electrical fields, and electronics to become complete diagnostic systems.
Comparing to conventional technologies, lab-on-a-chip has several advantages: low cost, high parallelization, ease of use, reduction of human error, faster response time, and low volume samples. The micro technologies and integration will allow a number of tests to be performed on the same chip, thus decreasing the cost of analysis and computation. These parallel-performed tests will also allow doctors to target specific illnesses to prescribe quickly and effectively the best antibiotic or antiviral. Due to the chip size and small volume, the chips are easy to use and require a lot less handling compared to equipment in laboratories. Therefore these chips should be able to be performed on site by a nurse. The low volume samples will also decrease the cost of analysis by reducing the use of expensive chemicals. At the micrometric scale, diffusion of chemicals, flow switch and diffusion of heat is faster, thus reducing response time and diagnosis. (Casquillas, 2021)
Right now, there are three main research areas on lab-on-a-chip: the industrialization of the technologies to make the chips ready for commercialization, which includes the adaptation of the fabrication process, the design of specific surface treatments, and the flow control system. The increase in the maximum number of biological operations on the chip. Fundamental research on certain technologies such as DNA, microfluidics and micro PCR. However, some labs-on-a-chip are already commercialized for glucose monitoring or specific pathology detection. (Casquillas, 2021)
In conclusion, LOC(Lab-on-a-chip) will have an impact to the healthcare system in the future. LOC might provide the ability to increase the speeds of specific analyses, and they can also be used by general practitioners, remote caretakers or even patients at home to receive appropriate treatment at a reduced cost for diagnosing. (National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, 2013)
Casquillas, G. (2021, April 22). Introduction to lab-on-a-chip 2020: Review, History and future. Elveflow. Retrieved June 6, 2022, from https://www.elveflow.com/microfluidic-reviews/general-microfluidics/introduction-to-lab-on-a-chip-review-history-and-future/
Hyde, A. (2020, October 16). What is lab-on-a-chip technology? Bioanalysis Zone. Retrieved June 12, 2022, from https://www.bioanalysis-zone.com/lab-chip-technology_loc/
National Institute for Public Health and the Environment. (2013). Lab-on-a-chip devices for Clinical Diagnostics – RIVM. Lab-on-a-chip devices for clinical diagnostics. Retrieved June 7, 2022, from https://www.rivm.nl/bibliotheek/rapporten/080116001.pdf
Schönberger Markus, & Hoffstetter, M. (2016). 6. emerging trends. In Emerging Trends in medical plastic engineering and manufacturing (pp. 235–268). essay, Elsevier Science.