Giving research a boost with cheaper biochips

Mar 14, 2012 By Sarah Perrin

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 to carry out analyses that are currently considered too expensive, and thus boost many areas of research.

Biochips, used to diagnose , detect tumor markers and measure substances in the blood such as glucose, drugs or doping agents, have become widespread in the medical world over the past 20 years. Scientists in EPFL’s Laboratory of Life Sciences Electronics (CLSE) have recently completely re-engineered the design of these semiconductor biochips, coming up with a way to make them re-usable. This in turn reduces their cost by a factor of ten, which otherwise would correspond to hundreds of francs a piece. The was recently described in an article and an interview in the scientific journal Electronics Letters.

“The advance that we are proposing could seriously boost research in several fields,” says CLSE director Carlotta Guiducci. “Many projects, such as those looking at new ways to analyze various molecules, thus become possible, even though right now they’re difficult to carry out because experimentation using CMOS biochips is simply too expensive.”

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

In the core of the biochip, the risk of contact between samples containing the material to be tested – DNA, molecules, neurons or cells – and the electronics has up to now obliged users to throw them away after a single use. “The electronics aren’t compatible with the liquid environment of the sample; they can be easily damaged and the reliability of the analysis results can be compromised,” explains Yuksel Temiz, a PhD student in CLSE. “This limits their usefulness and has prevented large scale commercialization.”

To solve this problem, the EPFL scientists looked at how they could separate the liquids that needed to be analyzed from the electronic circuits. In the Center for Micronanotechnologies (CMi) cleanrooms, they developed a procedure to manufacture a component that is placed on top of the electronics, like a kind of cap. The sample of biological material, placed in the cap, never enters into contact with the circuits. Its electrical impulses are transmitted to the circuit by an array of electrodes passing through the silicon layer of the cap.

Once the analysis is done, the cap is thrown away. The caps are easy to manufacture in large quantities in cleanrooms, can be customized for the needs of each laboratory, and are very cheap – only two francs each. And because the circuits have been protected from the liquid sample, they can be re-used several times. Researchers hope to be able to use a circuit at least ten times instead of just once. This will also allow more extended measurements and thus longer and more complete analyses.

Explore further: 50 Cent, Intel team up on heart-monitor headphones

More information: Electronics Letters, "Semiconductors in Personalised Medicine"Electronics Letters, interview with Carlotta Guiducci

Provided by Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne

5 /5 (1 vote)

Related Stories

A new motor for the watch of tomorrow

Aug 04, 2011

An electromagnetic three-phase motor, invented by EPFL’s Integrated Actuators Laboratory, will enable the watchmaking industry to build watches that are three times more efficient and that can include ...

First molybdenite microchip

Dec 05, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Molybdenite, a new and very promising material, can surpass the physical limits of silicon. EPFL scientists have proven this by making the first molybdenite microchip, with smaller and more ...

A touchscreen you can really feel (w/ video)

Nov 16, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Swiss researchers have invented a new generation of tactile surfaces with relief effects – users can feel actual raised keys under their fingers. This technology could have many applications, particularly ...

Bits of life, drop by drop

Jan 16, 2012

(PhysOrg.com) -- Swiss scientists are working on creating artificial living tissues using a very special kind of inkjet printer. Still in its initial stages, this technology could nonetheless soon provide ...

Recommended for you

Oregon sues Oracle over failed health care website

4 hours ago

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum says she's filed a lawsuit against Oracle Corp. and several of its executives over the technology company's role in the state's troubled health insurance exchange.

Google buys product design firm Gecko

4 hours ago

Google on Friday confirmed that it bought Gecko Design to bolster its lab devoted to technology-advancing projects such as self-driving cars and Internet-linked Glass eyewear.

Lawsuits challenge US drone, model aircraft rules

4 hours ago

Model aircraft hobbyists, research universities and commercial drone interests filed lawsuits Friday challenging a government directive that they say imposes tough new limits on the use of model aircraft ...

Fitbit to Schumer: We don't sell personal data

8 hours ago

The maker of a popular line of wearable fitness-tracking devices says it has never sold personal data to advertisers, contrary to concerns raised by U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer.

User comments : 0