Whilst the 'Lab on a chip' technology developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology may transform the way medicine is applied, the Imperial chip could transform the diagnosis of diseases.
The Imperial project has "the potential for finding the genetic causes of diseases like cancer," said Julian Walsh, also involved in the research. Andrew de Mello explains: "The chip's role is to speed up how quickly we can analyse DNA. It means faster and more efficient chemistry." The chip has molecules travelling along its channels instead of electrons. Chemical reactions can be set off in the chip by coating the channels with catalysts.
The chip has commercial potential, and may win investment from pharmaceutical giants. "The US chip is news worthy because it can be implanted under the skin. You wouldn't want to put one of our chips in the body, but it has major uses in self-diagnosis."
The size of a large postage stamp, the chip will allow patients to analyse their own blood and make a self diagnosis. Julian Walsh commented: "There is a huge trend towards taking control of personal health and this chip will be an important diagnostic tool in this."
There will also be implications for the genome project which is attempting to map the DNA of a human being. The project is due for completion in 2003. The chip could play a major role in pinpointing genes responsible for particular diseases. "Genetic diseases are linked to mutations in the sequence of DNA and need technology to analyse this," according to de Mello. The chip would provide this technology.
A Centre for Integrated Genetic and Microchemical Analysis is to be set up at Imperial College to continue research and development of the chip. De Mello described the technology as "ripe for commercialisation with pharmaceutical companies and diagnostic companies".
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