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Can A Stapler-sized Device Do A Full Medical Check-up?

Medical Checkup Chip 030714

A new compact and inexpensive device has been developed that could possibly analyze up to 170,000 different molecules in a blood sample. The device can simultaneously identify insulin levels, cancer and Alzheimer markers, or even certain viruses.

"We were looking to build an interface similar to a car's dashboard, which is able to indicate gas and oil levels as well as let you know if your headlights are on or if your engine is working correctly," says Professor Hatice Altug, one of the researchers behind the invention.

7.5 cm high and weighing 60 grams, the little device can detect viruses and a single layer of proteins down to 3 nanometres thick. 

The device has a 10x10 millimeter gold plate with arrays of extremely tiny holes (less than 200 nanometers wide), that are dividend into different sections, with each section having an independent sensor. These sensors are coated with special 'biofilms' that are meant to attract specific proteins. This way, when a biosample is tested, multiple proteins can be captured and checked by the device simultaneously. 

Then a LED detects the captured proteins, shines light on the arrays of holes and passes through the tiny openings to records the nature of these proteins on a CMOS chip. Here, the light changes when passing through the holes, based on the number of biomolecules present in the proteins, making it possible to know the number of particles that were captured on the sensor.

"Recent studies have shown that certain illness like cancer or Alzheimer's are better diagnosed and false positive results avoided when several parameters can be analyzed at once," says Altug, who with postdoctoral fellow Arif Cetin, and Prof. Aydogan Ozcan from UCLA developed this "optical lab on a chip" at EFPL, Switzerland.

The team of researchers hope to work with local hospitals in the near future to find the best way to use this new technology.

The structure is outlined in a publication in Nature Light Science & Application: an off-the-shelf CMOS chip, a LED and a 10 by 10 millimeter gold plate pierced with arrays of holes less than 200 nanometer wide.

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