Case studies

Lab-on-a-chip

Researchers at the Zepler Institute have
used consumer electronics technology
to make a hand-held diagnostic tool that
quickly helps GPs decide which antibiotics
to give to their patients.

 

Treating bacterial infections is becoming increasingly difficult due to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance. Bacterial mutations can mean that the antimicrobial drugs once successfully prescribed to treat an infection may no longer be effective, resulting in a trial and error process for patients with sometimes unsatisfactory outcomes.

The Zepler Institute has developed a lab-on-a-chip that can tell doctors whether the bacteria causing the infection are resistant to certain antibiotics. The chip, which uses the thin-film transistor technology found in most television or computer displays, turns a procedure that would typically take days to carry out in a specialised laboratory, into a 10minute test that can be administered on the spot by a GP.

The chip contains many thousands of individually addressable electrodes that are fully reconfigurable and can be programmed to support multiple simultaneous operations. Starting with a single drop of fluid, the chip then splits this into many nanolitre-sized droplets and uses novel nanowire sensors to detect and identify molecules within them. This process takes only a few minutes and requires no additional specialist training to be undertaken by the GP. Using low-cost lithography techniques and standard manufacturing processes such as deposition and etching, Zepler Institute researchers are developing a method of fabricating the device in a way that will enable its mass-production.

Click to read more about the impact of micro-technologies on remote medical diagnosis.