'Lab on a Chip' Could Monitor Exposure to Dangerous Molecules

Engineers have developed biosensor technology that could be used to monitor your health and exposure to dangerous molecules with a portable device.

Jul. 6, 2017
By Anthony Vasquez-Peddie

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Picture your­self order­ing a salad at a restau­rant, and then using your phone or smart­watch to test the ingre­di­ents for harm­ful bac­te­ria or aller­gens.

That prospect might soon become a real­ity. Engineers at Rutgers University have devel­oped biosen­sor tech­nol­ogy — dubbed lab on a chip” — that could be used to mon­i­tor your health and expo­sure to dan­ger­ous mol­e­cules from a portable or wear­able device.

Imagine a watch that con­tin­u­ously sam­ples blood or saliva for dif­fer­ent types of mol­e­cules, and con­tin­u­ously stud­ies a per­son’s health.- Mehdi Javanmard, Rutgers University

The pur­pose of it is to be able to detect mul­ti­ple types of bio­mol­e­cules simul­ta­ne­ously,” Mehdi Javanmard told Olive Oil Times. Javanmard is an assis­tant pro­fes­sor at Rutgers University, New Brunswick’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and was the pro­jec­t’s prin­ci­pal inves­ti­ga­tor.

There are dif­fer­ent types of organ­isms, bac­te­ria or viruses that could con­t­a­m­i­nate food,” he said. You would want to be able to detect those all at once. That’s basi­cally what this tech­nol­ogy does. It allows you to take a small sam­ple and do tests simul­ta­ne­ously.”

The fact this is achieved with the use of a chip means it could be pack­aged in a com­pact gad­get.


You don’t have to do this in a big lab,” Javanmard said. Now you can do things with an instru­ment that you can wear or carry around with you and plug into a phone.”

A study of the tech­nol­ogy was recently writ­ten up in a jour­nal pub­lished by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

It involves issu­ing an elec­tronic bar code to micropar­ti­cles so that they may be dis­tin­guish­able. This allows for spe­cific mol­e­cules to be iden­ti­fied.

For exam­ple, in the con­text of food aller­gens, there’s not just one type of aller­gen as each one has a dif­fer­ent pro­tein or toxin asso­ci­ated with it,” Javanmard said. This bar­cod­ing tech­nique means the user can test for mul­ti­ple pro­teins.”

The prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tions for the tech­nol­ogy extend far beyond mon­i­tor­ing food.

Environmental mon­i­tor­ing is also impor­tant,” Javanmard said. Imagine you’re look­ing for virus mol­e­cules, tox­ins, bac­te­ria in dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ments. Your kids are play­ing in the play­ground dur­ing win­ter­time, and there’s a bunch of sick kids around. You want to make sure the slides and the var­i­ous toys that are there are not con­t­a­m­i­nated.

There’s also health mon­i­tor­ing. Imagine hav­ing a watch that con­tin­u­ously sam­ples blood or saliva for dif­fer­ent types of mol­e­cules, and con­tin­u­ously study­ing a per­son’s health.”

That last one may be par­tic­u­larly cru­cial when assess­ing the sta­tus of a patient.

In order to give a pre­scrip­tion that has a high chance of being accu­rate, it’s nec­es­sary to have com­pre­hen­sive infor­ma­tion about the patient at a mol­e­c­u­lar level,” Javanmard said. When you have tools that allow for con­tin­u­ous mon­i­tor­ing for not just one just one bio­mol­e­cule, but 20 dif­fer­ent key mol­e­cules simul­ta­ne­ously, this allows you to obtain an under­stand­ing of what’s going on phys­i­o­log­i­cally inside the body at a much higher level com­pared to the capa­bil­i­ties we have right now.”

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