Tiny silicon chip to increase first responders' ability to diagnose bio attack

A tiny chip based on silicon produced by IBM's research labs in Zurich could soon be used by first responders to quickly diagnose dozens of diseases faster and with less blood required than normal.

The chip, which requires only a tiny drop of blood, draws the blood through itself by utilizing the tendency of a fluid to travel through small channels under its own force rather than relying on a series of pumps.

The simpler design of the microfluidic chip requires less blood than traditional methods, works faster than a regular "lab on a chip" design and is more flexible in its design to allow a wider range of diagnostics.

The chemical and medical possibilities of microfluidic chips have increasingly become the focus lab on a chip of studies in recent years. The chips, which contain between dozens and thousands of tiny channels that allow fluids to flow, have become more advanced as micro-manufactuuring methods have allow for greater complexity of microfluidics.

IBM's chip relies on an array of antibody molecules designed to latch onto the protein-based molecular markers of disease in blood. The antibodies are chemically connected to molecules that emit light of a specific color when illuminated if they are bound to the disease markers.

The microfluidic chip is also sealed with a special polymer that detector antibodies can easily bond with. Different antibodies can then be placed in a number of distinct channels, allowing the diagnosis of a range of different diseases simultaneously.

The advanced chip can provide an analysis of blood in minutes at a patient's bedside rather than the hour or more generally needed at a central lab, allowing first responders to accurately and quickly determine if they are dealing with a biological attack.