High performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) technology has been downsized to chip proportions.

High performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) technology has been downsized to chip proportions. This marks, according to developers Agilent Technologies, the first microfluidic chip-based device that can carry out nanoflow HPLC.

HPLC is a ubiquitous feature in laboratories focused on the separation and identification of chemical and biological compounds, and industry is fast developing technological innovations in this highly competitive field.

The advantage of so-called HPLC-Chip, according its developers, is that it eliminates the need for traditional LC columns and fittings. It is a reusable polymer chip smaller than a credit card that cuts out 50 per cent of the fittings and connections normally required for LC/mass spectrometry (MS), says product marketing manager Helmut Schulenberg-Schell. The chip is inserted into an MS interface, which mounts on an Agilent mass spectrometer.

’Potential customers who are limited in their sample size would be the first candidates to go for it,’ Schulenberg-Schell told Chemistry World. Current techniques - capillary LC and nano-flow LC - are time consuming, he says.

’The chip is a convenient integrated system,’ agrees Pierre Thibault of the University of Montreal, Canada, who leads one of the teams testing it. It ’demystifies’ capillary and nano-flow LC. ’People are baffled from time to time by nano plumbing,’ he says.

There is intense competition to develop novel solutions in this area, says Thibault, but HPLC-Chip offers the neatest solution for him so far. The system is still at the exploratory stage, but he plans to continue working with it once it enters the market at the end of 2004.

The first chips are being tested in proteomics applications, but there are numerous possible applications, says Schulenberg-Schell, who predicts a wide range of markets - from pharmaceuticals to forensics.

Bea Perks