Now in development, the Lab-on-a-Chip (LOC) technology will allow medical professionals, even patients themselves, to take a sample of bodily fluid and run dozens of tests in minutes–bringing quick, reliable, and inexpensive health care to the developing world and the U.S. From Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think by Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler.
These days, to perform a blood test, you need access to sterile equipment and trained personnel. Clearly, it doesn’t take much to take a blood sample, but after being gathered, it has to be sent to appropriate labs and then everyone must wait days, sometimes weeks, for the results. Not only are the tests prohibitively expensive, but in the developing world, where public transportation can be nonexistent, it’s hard enough for most people just to get to the doctor in the first place, let alone return weeks later to learn the results and obtain treatment.
A technology now under development, known as Lab-on-a-Chip (LOC), has the potential to solve these problems. Packaged into a portable, cell-phone-sized device, LOC will allow doctors, nurses, and even patients themselves to take a sample of bodily fluid (such as urine, sputum, or a single drop of blood) and run dozens, if not hundreds, of diagnostics on the spot and in a matter of minutes.
“It’s a game-changing technology,” says John T. McDevitt, a Rice University professor of bioengineering and chemistry and an early pioneer in the field. “In the developing world, it will bring reliable health care to billions who don’t currently have it. In the developed world, like here in the US—where medical costs go up another 8 percent every year and 16.5 percent of the economy goes to health care—if personalized medical technologies like the lab-on-a-chip aren’t brought to bear on the situation, we’re going to bankrupt the country.”
Another upside to LOC technologies is their ability to gather data. Because these chips are online, the information they collect—like, say, an outbreak of swine flu—can be immediately uploaded to a cloud, where it can be analyzed for deeper patterns. “For the first time,” says McDevitt, “we’ll have access to large quantities of global medical data. This will be crucial in halting the spread of new, emerging diseases and pandemics.”