Lab-on-a-chip could speed genetic analysis

University of British Columbia researchers have developed a silicon chip that allows individual cells to fall into place like balls in a pinball machine, enabling quicker, more sensitive and low-cost genetic analysis.

University of British Columbia (UBC; Vancouver, BC, Canada) researchers have developed a silicon chip that allows individual cells to fall into place like balls in a pinball machine, enabling quicker, more sensitive and low-cost genetic analysis. Described and validated recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the "lab-on-a-chip," which is as small as a nine-volt battery, allows researchers to simultaneously analyze 300 cells individually by routing fluid-carrying cells through microscopic tubes and valves. Once isolated into their separate chambers, the cells’ RNA can be extracted and replicated for further analysis.

The "lab-on-a-chip" integrates almost the entire process of cell analysis: separating the cells, mixing them with chemical reagents to highlight their genetic code, and analyzing the results by measuring fluorescent light emitted from the reaction.

“Single-cell genetic analysis is vital in a host of areas, including stem cell research and advanced cancer biology and diagnostics,” says Carl Hansen, an assistant professor in the Dept. of Physics and Astronomy and the Center for High-Throughput Biology, who led the team that developed the device. “But until now, it has been too costly to become widespread in research, and especially for use in health care. This technology, and other approaches like it, could radically change the way we do both basic and applied biomedical research, and would make single-cell analysis a more plausible option for treating patients—allowing clinicians to distinguish various cancers from one another and tailor their treatments accordingly.”

The research was funded by Genome BC, Genome Canada, Western Economic Diversification Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Terry Fox Foundation, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

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Posted by Lee Mather

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