Optic chip set to revolutionise diagnostic medicine

22 March 2010

As a postdoc at Tufts University, Boston, Dr Peter Domachuk and his colleagues had the revelation of using protein to make an optical chip in strip form to monitor health. Two years on and the idea has become closer to the reality of producing a networked interface to the human body that can potentially provide an unparalleled standard of patient care by ensuring correct, efficient diagnosis and treatment without drawing blood or using lab tests.

The idea was developed when a colleague's four-year-old daughter swallowed unknown quantities of different medicines from her grandparents' medicine chest. Against all odds the little girl survived as she had refused to allow any doctor with a needle near her to obtain a blood sample.

"Even if a doctor had been successful in getting a blood sample it still would have taken hours for the results to come through," says Dr Domachuk who is today based within The University of Sydney's School of Physics. "By using an optical chip in a strip form on her wrist an accurate toxicology report would've been generated almost instantly and in a minimally invasive fashion saving much stress, pain and trauma on the child, her parents and the attending medical staff."

The strips are flexible optical chips combining biochemistry, light, electronics and medicine that plug into, or under, the skin, instantaneously analysing and communicating the torrent of medical information that humans produce. For a while though an appropriate material that had a low-immune response, was robust and able to be used as a platform for biochemistry and optics eluded Dr Domachuk.

"My colleagues were researching the refinement of silk protein from the cocoon of the Bombyx morii silkworm for use in artificial ligaments. With a small modification to the refinement process I was able to create strong, clear films of silk protein with favourable optical properties that meet the criteria for making optical chips for health and biological sensing."

Dr Domachuk's research pioneered manipulation of light on the protein chip and demonstrated silk's versatility in an optic, patterned to manipulate light based in silk film that contained blood - the optic being used to measure the reactivity of the blood. Not only could the film support human biochemistry on an optic, he and his colleagues then discovered that the films have no immune response when implanted in the body.

"That was pretty exciting especially as these protein films can be stamped with structures 1/1000th of a width of a human hair. The combination of human biochemistry and optical devices on a chip made from natural protein is unprecedented," Dr Domachuk says.

By using this protein to make optical chips Dr Domachuk says diagnostic medicine will be transformed, ensuring quicker, more effective and accurate measurements and monitoring, particularly in triage treatment, remote area medicine and military hospitals based in war zones. "This optical chip is not only going to help save lives but will underpin new research into further revolutionary medical technology. This is just the beginning."

Contact: Rachel Gleeson

Phone: 9351 4312

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