New technologies are changing every other field and making possible what we could only have imagined before. One of the technologies that has radicalized the field of laboratory science is lab-on-a-chip (LOC) technology.
What is Lab-on-a-Chip?
In essence, a LOC system is a device that enables the conversion of a laboratory process and analytical functions into a small-scale, miniature version. The LOC set up is typically a few millimeters or centimeters at most compared to some of the huge laboratory analytical equipment. The LOC setups can handle minute liquid volumes as small as a pico-liter. These devices are a class of the wider field of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS).
The history of LOC devices is tied to the history and development of microtechnology, fluid technology, and pressure sensors. Microtechnology looks at the use of very small devices on the scale of a micrometer, which is a tenth of a meter. The very first LOC analysis system was developed by S.C. Terry at Stanford University. This was the gas chromatograph, an important analytical machine which is still heavily used by analytical labs across the world today. Gas chromatography allows scientists to analyze samples of substances that can be vaporized. Scientists can learn what the compound is made up of and how pure it is by running it through the analytical system and analyzing the results produced.
Towards the end of the 1980s, the pace of LOC research and development picked up. New devices produced during this period included flow sensors and micro-pumps. These are used in a wide range of industrial and laboratory machines, as well as in many everyday home applications and devices. Micro-pumps are miniature pumps that can be found in medical devices that allow patients to obtain their medication drugs. Flow sensors measure how much gas or liquid is flowing through a space. In the home, these can be found in gas meters and HVAC systems.
Applications of LOC
Today, LOC technology is used widely in a variety of industrial and research applications. One major one in the medical field is in DNA analysis and genetic engineering. LOCs are also used in protein analysis. They are largely used in the broad field of medical diagnostics. Medical scientists need ways to perform quick diagnostic tests and receive results quickly without having to withdraw large volumes of body fluid and sending these off to a laboratory. One example of a device that has sped up tests is a glucose monitor.
LOCs are found in various medical devices and treatments such as implantable and wireless devices. In drug delivery systems and research, they also play a pivotal role. In biological analytical systems, LOCs can be used in tissue engineering. Simulations and models such that produce cells, tissues, and organs on a chip are important for medical research as is cell analysis and synthetic medical systems.
Apart from the health and medical applications of LOCs, other industries have also benefited. These include the energy, biofuels, and fuel extraction sectors. LOCs are used in environmental analysis and food monitoring for health and security. They can pick up on very small volumes and quantities of gas, liquids, which could be impurities or dangerous substances.
Some Pros and Cons of LOCs
Because of the size of LOCs, there are limitations on what can be done. It necessarily has to be on a very small scale. Looking at this from a different perspective, this in of itself is also the major advantage of LOC systems. Scientists and researchers can perform tests and analyses on a small chip. This cuts down the cost of using and acquiring large pieces of equipment. LOCs are quick and less intensive and laborious to use.
Engaging Sentence: Lab-on-a-chip systems allow scientists to carry out quick and cost-effective analysis.
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