The image the current generations have of a medical lab is filled with test tubes, beakers, dishes, and more, but future generations may instead picture a small device you can hold in your hand, when thinking of a medical lab. Labs-on-a-Chip (LoCs) are new pieces of technology still in development that take advantage of nanotechnology to cheaply and efficiently perform tests that traditional required large expensive equipment. Many researchers are working on these systems and researchers at Brigham Young University have designed a new one that not only detects specific molecules, but allows one to measure their concentration, without additional equipment.
The novel addition this design gives to LoCs is its ability to measure the concentrations of specific molecules, which previously would require full labs. To detect molecules, one can use targeting molecules that attach and react only to what you want. The researchers are taking advantage of that by coating the inside of a small channel with these targeting molecules. When they are exposed to the right molecule in some fluid, the reaction causes the channel to collapse, slightly. Higher concentrations in the fluid cause the channel to collapse sooner, so the fluid does not travel as far. So, exactly how far the fluid travels translates to the concentration of some molecule in the fluid.
When the researchers tested this design, they found they were able to collect when there was as little as one nanogram, billionth of a gram, of the specific molecule they are looking for in the fluid. That is very impressive considering the simplicity of the system, and is very important as some changes brought about by disease have such small effects.