Nanotech: the Tiny Revolution - Medical Applications of a Lab on a Chip
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Labs on a chip have various applications in medicine. Some of the earliest recorded uses were by the military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), who developed a portable bio warfare agent detection center. This use has become one of the most widespread of LOCs commercially, as various companies have developed LOCs to detect diseases pathogens (bacteria and viruses) and also identify disease-causing organisms and cancers due to the production of antibodies.
Using laboratory processes such as immunoassay, LOCs can detect viruses, bacteria and cancers. Other processes used include dielectrophoresis and PCR (Polymerase Chain Reactions). Using these methods, LOCs can aid in the detection of cancerous cells and disease pathogens. A clear illustration of this application is the LOC developed by STMicroelectronics to detect the bird flu virus.
LOC Detects H5N1 Bird Flu Virus
This LOC uses a single test to detect patients who are infected by this strain of influenza. The avian flu virus has so far killed 79 people, and scientists live in terror of the strain mutating to a form that is easily communicable between humans. The only way of contracting the virus (so far) is through close contact with infected birds.
The STMicroelectronics LOC uses a sample of blood or a swab from the throat to detect the virus. The chip is estimated to be 99 percent accurate and is already on the market in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. It uses PCR to check for the presence of the virus in the blood or throat. STMicroelectonicss say they hope to apply the chip technology to other diseases such as malaria, pneumonia and meningitis.
The Lab On Chip method that STMicroelectronics uses differs from the "dipstick" method (the dipstick method is less efficient than the LOC method). The LOC is, however, far more expensive and the marketing models differ, with STMicroelectronics selling their technology to airports before selling it to clinics.
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