Microfluidics could identify bioweapons

Researchers are studying a microfluidic sensor technology intended to be used to help identify biological and chemical weapons.

A team from Oregon State University says that the technology will exploit customized iron oxide nanoparticles in its operation, leading to the creation portable devices suitable for field applications, according to Azonano.com.

The use of ferromagnetic iron oxide nanoparticles has allowed the team to utilize magnetism and electronics in order for the particles to double as a signaling tool if incorporated into a system of integrated circuits.

“The particles we’re using are 1,000 times smaller than those now being used in common diagnostic tests, allowing a device to be portable and used in the field,” lead researcher Vincent Remcho said, according to OregonState.edu.

Existing assays are often considered to be both cumbersome and time consuming. They generally cannot be conducted without using expensive equipment and expert personnel to interpret the results.

The new approach uses tiny nanoparticles, essentially microscopic pieces of rust, attached to biochemical probes, Azonano.com reports. When a chemical of interest is located, ferromagnetic resonance will enable the system to relay the information electronically to the user interface, displaying the data immediately for the operator.

The rapid detection of chemical toxins used in bioterrorism will be possible, including the identification of anthrax, ricin or smallpox.

The work has been supported by a four-year grant from the Army Research Laboratory.

New findings on the microfluidic iron oxide sensor were recently reported in the journal Sensors and Actuators.