Dramatic reduction in reagent costs and process time will help increase access to personalised medicine

Researchers in Switzerland have developed a microfluidic platform able to measure four protein biomarkers in over 1000 blood samples on a single microfluidic chip. With a dramatic reduction in reagent consumption, time and cost, this new high-throughput technology could make early disease diagnosis more affordable.

Many clinical diagnostic tests measure the amount of a specific protein in a patient’s blood. If the levels of this protein are abnormal it is often an indicator for a disease. Currently these tests are very expensive and time-consuming and are only used once a certain condition is suspected, so the patient is already showing symptoms.

Jose Garcia-Cordero and Sebastian Maerkl at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne hope to change this with their new microfluidic platform capable of measuring protein biomarkers from just 5nL of human blood with comparable results to a conventional enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA), which typically uses a 50µL sample volume. The platform uses a microspotting technique to deliver a large number of blood samples to the chip combined with a microfluidic circuit that runs four parallel immunoassays.

The microfluidic device can perform over 4000 disease biomarker assays in a single run

‘The throughput of our device is roughly 10–100 times that of current microfluidic platforms with an estimated reagent cost of US$ 0.1 per chip,’ says Maerkl. ‘By drastically reducing the cost of diagnostic tests, we hope that everyone will be able to measure a number of biomarkers on a continuous basis, allowing people to take either preventive measures or to seek early treatment for diseases such as cancer.’

Michele Zagnoni, an expert in microfluidic techniques for cancer research at the University of Strathclyde in the UK, commends the ‘outstanding increase in analytical throughput’ and adds that ‘the choice of producing a microfluidic device which can be interfaced with robotic dispensers is an appealing one for pharmaceutical companies, offering a technology that can be easily integrated with existing industrial instrumentation and procedures.’

While their current platform is based on fluorescence to quantify biomarker levels, Maerkl hopes to move to an electronic readout to make smaller and cheaper point-of-care instruments.