A new “lab on a chip” designed at BYU reveals the presence of ultra-low concentrations of a target molecule with simplified testing that could make lab testing faster and more accessible. BYU chemist Adam Woolley and his students hope their prototype will work as a blueprint for making inexpensive diagnostic tests for a variety of diseases and genetic disorders. In the journal of Analytical Chemistry, Woolley and his co-authors report that using a credit card sized new device, they detected as little as a single nanogram — one billionth of a gram — of the target molecule from a drop of liquid. And instead of sending the sample to a lab for chemical analysis, the chip allows them to measure with such precision using their own eyes.
“The nice thing about the system that we have developed is that this could be done anywhere,” Woolley said. “Somebody could put the sample in, look at it, and have the result they need.”
The trick is to line a tiny pipe with receptors that catch a specific molecule and allow others to pass by. When a drop of liquid is placed on the clear chip, capillary action draws the fluid through the channel, flowing up to one centimeter per second. As more of the target molecules are snagged by the receptors, the space constricts and eventually stops the flow.
How far the sample flows is a direct indication of the concentration of the target molecule (higher concentration = shorter distance, lower concentration = longer distance).
Woolley and his students hope their prototype will work as a blueprint for making inexpensive diagnostic tests for a variety of diseases and genetic disorders.
“There are a lot of molecules associated with diseases where concentrations around a nanogram per milliliter or less in blood are the difference between a disease state versus a healthy state,” Woolley said.