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This 1-Cent Lab On A Chip Could Revolutionize Medical Diagnosis

In low-income countries, the breast-cancer survival rate is around 40 percent. That's half the rate of richer countries, and due in large part to difficulties in early detection—diagnostic tools are too expensive and hard to access. In 2017, Stanford University researchers announced that they had made a diagnostic breakthrough by creating a small, reusable "lab on a chip" that can be used to detect all sorts of disease, all for the low, low price of one U.S. cent.

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The lab on a chip.

Download, Print, And Diagnose

Here's how the chip works: a clear silicone chamber holds the sample of cells you're testing, along with a reusable electronic strip made from polyester. That strip is the real genius of the invention. Medical personnel can download different designs for the strip depending on the diagnostic test they need. Then they print it right onto the strip, using a regular inkjet printer and conductive nanoparticle ink. The whole process takes about 20 minutes.

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Once the strip is printed, users can apply an electrical charge to the strip to separate the sample cells according to their electrical properties. That lets medical experts capture specific cells, count the quantity of one cell type, or isolate certain types of cells—cancer cells, for instance. Need to switch experiments? Just print another electronic strip and pop it on in.

Related: When It Comes To Diagnosis, Doctors Outperform Computers

Rahim Esfandyarpour helped to develop a way to create a diagnostic "lab on a chip" for just a penny.

One Small Step For Medicine

The lab on a chip isn't a silver bullet. You need some other equipment to insert the sample, for instance, which not all labs may have. Even still, this is a groundbreaking invention. According to Ron Davis, PhD, professor of biochemistry and of genetics and director of the Stanford Genome Technology Center, the technology "could usher in a medical diagnostics revolution like the kind brought on by low-cost genome sequencing." And that would be huge.

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Written by Curiosity Staff February 21, 2017

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