Researchers from the Stanford University School of Medicine, using a combination of microfluidics, electronics and a standard inkjet printer, have succeeded in producing a biochip that can be used for research or diagnostic purposes. The remarkable feature of this new 'lab-on-a-chip' is the cost: less than one cent each.

The new technology could provide a revolution in medical diagnostics, particularly so in developing countries. There – putting it mildly – the availability of an early diagnosis is extremely limited (or even non-existent), while this can double the chances of survival with diseases such a breast cancer. Existing diagnostic equipment often costs many thousands of euros – a doctor in the West doesn't have to worry about this, but in the countries of Africa such an amount is a practically insurmountable hurdle. Here is where this new biochip can play an important role.

The system comprises two parts: a (cheap) transparent silicon holder for a solution that contains the cells to be examined, which is positioned on top of a reusable electronic strip. The latter can simply be printed on a flexible sheet of polyester using a normal inkjet printer and a readily available conductive ink based on nano particles. The production if the complete chip will take no more than 20 minutes and no special facilities are required.

With this new system it is not necessary to stain the cells to be examined with fluorescent or magnetic markers – the chip separates the cells based on their intrinsic electrical properties (electrophoresis) and these characteristics differ between healthy and sick cells.

The complete text of the research can be found here.