Every year, people visit their physician for their annual wellness exam. This typically involves a blood screening where a lab draws two to three vials of blood from the patient. This blood then undergoes a series of tests for cholesterol, sugar levels, and other biochemical factors that contribute to the overall health of the patient. Additionally, the patient has to wait weeks to receive the results of these tests. Wouldn’t it be amazing if all of these tests could be accomplished with a single drop of blood and be ready in minutes? Scientists are working on ways to make this happen using what they call “a lab on a chip.” The idea is that a single drop of blood is wicked through channels on the chip which contain all of the detectors from the usual battery of tests found in a typical blood screening. The lab on a chip could also be used to rapidly diagnose diseases or other conditions. In the battle against cancer, this could be particularly groundbreaking since early detection often ensures more successful treatment. This amazing new technology is not yet commercially available but it could someday!
Many scientists around the world are working towards developing these advanced pieces of technology. The University of Alberta has developed a chip that can screen for chromosome mutations that cause cancer while the London Centre for Nanotechnology has developed a chip that can detect HIV in a blood sample. With all of the buzz that has surrounded these devices, some ethical questions have been raised as well. For example, once developed, who will have access to these chips and who would be allowed to view or use the results and information produced by the chip? As with any new technology, these are issues that we as public consumers will have to address.
To learn more about the cool innovations produced by nanoscientists visit Arizona Science Center and attend our NanoDays celebrations on March 29 and April 5, 2014 or visit http://www.whatisnano.org for more information about nanotechnology.