In Brief
A team of engineers from Rutgers University-New Brunswick have developed a lab-on-a-chip capable of identifying biomarkers in the body indicative of certain diseases. The technology can be used in wearables, as well as in other portable devices.

Personalized Medicine

We’ve become accustomed to having many services personalized: information can be delivered to us through our smartphone, even according to our specific preferences. Our daily commute to work has become personalized thanks to ride-hailing services like Uber. And in terms of our online social lives, even dating apps can provide more personalized options than ever before. All of this catering to our preference for preference has been made possible through technology. Now, engineers from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick want to extend this kind of personalized service to medicine.

The Rutgers engineers have invented a new kind of “lab-on-a-chip,” a biosensor that fits multiple functions that have traditionally required the use of a laboratory into one electrical chip. Their device, which the engineers described in detail in the journal Lab on a Chip, can analyze sweat or blood in order to detect multiple biomarkers linked to several diseases.

“One biomarker is often insufficient to pinpoint a specific disease because of the heterogeneous nature of various types of diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and inflammatory disease,” researcher Mehdi Javanmard said in a press release. “To get an accurate diagnosis and accurate management of various health conditions, you need to be able to analyze multiple biomarkers at the same time.”

A Wearable Lab

Lab-on-a chip devices are innovative because they compress a number of functions typically tasked to larger, bulkier instruments into much smaller technology. The invention by engineers at Rutgers took the capabilities of current state-of-the-art lab technology and transplanted them onto a chip that can be affixed to wearable devices.

The device electronically barcodes microparticles to identify them, and the first time this barcoding technique is fully electronic — which is what allowed researchers to shrink the biosensors to fit on microchips. “This is really important in the context of personalized medicine or personalized health monitoring,” Javanmard said. “Our technology enables true labs on chips. We’re talking about platforms the size of a USB flash drive or something that can be integrated onto an Apple Watch, for example, or a Fitbit.”

Javanmard and his colleagues are also working on a version that can be placed in portable devices and detect microparticles in other objects. This tool, the team said, could be commercially available within the next two years, and the wearable medical biosensor could be out within the next five years. Currently, the lab-on-a-chip was shown to be more than 95 percent accurate in identifying biomarkers. That’s certainly impressive, but the team isn’t done yet: they’re fine-tuning the instrument to reach 100 percent accuracy.