Microscopes at microscopic size

April 11, 2005

Traditionally if scientists wanted to look at something small they would put a sample under a microscope but now researchers have managed to shrink the microscope itself to the size of a single human cell. An interdisciplinary research team, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) have developed optical biochips no larger than a single cell that could lead to faster development of new drugs and quicker medical tests.

The research team moved away from the idea that a microscope is something you have to look through to create optical biochips onto which scientists can place biological samples. Special fluorescent chemicals are then used together with tiny light emitting lasers to allow the scientists to analyse the cells or targets within the cells. Researchers can use this capability to examine cellular conditions for certain diseases or to develop new treatments by studying the way cells react to a drug.

The biochips also raise the possibility of a micro-laboratory, the size of a credit card, which would be able to perform medical diagnostics, improving patient treatment by reducing the number of hospital visits needed for tests.

The initial research has led to the creation of a spin-out company, BioStatus Ltd, supported by a BBSRC Small Business Research Initiative grant. BioStatus has developed the research to refine the fluorescent probe technology and also to make the analysis of biological samples more sophisticated.

Professor Paul Smith, the research group leader, said, "Our research and the outcomes from the spin-out company could help to revolutionise how we examine biological samples. Our next step will be to develop simple, small diagnostic devices. Future generations may be able to use these as the basis for hand-held systems that will be able to perform diagnostic functions in the field that currently require a laboratory test."

Professor Julia Goodfellow, Chief Executive of BBSRC, said, "The success of the research into biochips and the development of the science through the spin-out company shows how cutting edge research in the biosciences can meet real world challenges. Bochips have the potential to make a real difference in medical diagnostics and drug development."

The research is being carried out at the Wales College of Medicine and involves researchers at Cardiff University, University of Bangor, the Gray Cancer Institute in London and collaboration with the University of Warwick and laboratories in the United States.

Source: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council

Explore further: Biochip technology reveals 'fingerprints' of biochemical threats

Related Stories

Biochips can detect cancers before symptoms develop

May 12, 2008

In their fight against cancer, doctors have just gained an impressive new weapon to add to their arsenal. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have developed a chip that can save lives ...

Research lights up biochip potential

August 15, 2006

New research from a University of Alberta optics expert is shining a light on some of the challenges facing lab-on-a-chip technology. Electrical engineering professor Dr. Jim McMullin has developed a new type of biochip, ...

Giving research a boost with cheaper biochips

March 14, 2012

An EPFL invention has drastically reduced the cost of producing biochips, which are used to measure glucose and drug levels in the blood and to detect biomolecules and cellular signals. This development could make it possible ...

Recommended for you

Giant radio flare of Cygnus X-3 detected by astronomers

December 7, 2016

(Phys.org)—Russian astronomers have recently observed a giant radio flare from a strong X-ray binary source known as Cygnus X-3 (Cyg X-3 for short). The flare occurred after more than five years of quiescence of this source. ...

Blocks of ice demonstrate levitated and directed motion

December 7, 2016

Resembling the Leidenfrost effect seen in rapidly boiling water droplets, a disk of ice becomes highly mobile due to a levitating layer of water between it and the smooth surface on which it rests and melts. The otherwise ...

Cosmic dust found in city rooftop gutters

December 7, 2016

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers with Imperial College London, the Natural History Museum in London, Project Stardust in Norway and Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, has found samples of cosmic dust in the ...

New evidence for a warmer and wetter early Mars

December 7, 2016

A recent study from ESA's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) provides new evidence for a warm young Mars that hosted water across a geologically long timescale, rather than in short episodic bursts ...

Fossils of early tetrapods unearthed in Scotland

December 7, 2016

(Phys.org)—A team of researchers working at a dig site in Scotland has found tetrapod fossils dated to approximately 15 million years after the Devonian mass extinction—a time period experts in the field have referred ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.