Researchers create 'lab on a chip' devices to help medics monitor patients’ health in real-time

Researchers have identified a way of allowing medics to use tiny laboratories to monitor their patients’ health in real-time and deliver a greater level of personal care than ever before.

While so-called ‘Lab on a Chip’ devices have been in development for a number of years, the requirement for large external support systems and sensor deterioration over time meant they were unsuitable in a clinical setting.

Publishing their findings in the Royal Society of Chemistry’s journal Lab on a Chip, the team from Imperial College London reveal they have overcome these challenges by successfully developing a 3D-printed chip which is more robust and can be controlled remotely using a tablet or computer.

It means Lab on a Chip devices can now be set up to monitor chemical fluctuations inside the body, giving quicker and more accurate results, as well as opening up the potential for medics to gather crucial data which could not be monitored previously.

Professor Martyn Boutelle, Professor of Biomedical Sensors Engineering at Imperial College London, said:

Our goal was to create devices which will give medical professionals better insight into the condition of their patients, helping them to deliver more effective and personalized care.

Our research has shown that these sensors are capable of successfully monitoring patients who are in incredibly unstable conditions and provide their healthcare team with reliable information as soon as they need it, as well as a means of alerting them when critical clinical changes occur.

Through providing optimal therapy, this will result in better outcomes for patients and therefore has the potential to deliver cost savings for the NHS.”

In proving the technology, the team monitored traumatic brain injury patients at the intensive therapy unit at King’s College Hospital. A sampling probe was placed into the patient’s brain by neurosurgeons. This was then coupled to an external ‘lab on a chip’ device set to continuously monitor the levels of multiple substances in the brain such as glucose and pyruvate. The brain requires a continuous supply of glucose in order to function, but too much of it can have a detrimental effect.

Similarly, if the pyruvate level declines it could indicate a lack of oxygen getting to the brain. This information acted as an early warning of possible declining brain function, something that has never been possible in real-time before – giving medics time to take action and improve conditions for the patient.

Commenting on the significance of the findings, Dr Annika Friberg from the Royal Society of Chemistry, said:

This paper demonstrates an exciting and significant step towards this technology being used to great effect in real-world clinical situations. The team at Imperial College London have shown the potential these devices have to radically improve the treatment of patients with acute injuries and sets out the roadmap for reliably testing new ways of monitoring and identifying clinical changes in patients which impact on the outcome of their treatment.”

Source:
Journal reference:

Gowers, S.A.N., et al. (2019) Clinical translation of microfluidic sensor devices: focus on calibration and analytical robustness. Lab on a Chip. doi.org/10.1039/C9LC00400A.

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