The new capillaric chips that act as miniature laboratories. (Credit: McGill University)

Researchers have invented a lab-on-a-chip that can be 3D printed in just 30 minutes. The chip has the potential to make on-the-spot testing widely accessible.

As part of a recent study, the team developed capillaric chips that act as miniature laboratories. Unlike other computer microprocessors, these chips are single-use and require no external power source — a simple paper strip suffices. They function through capillary action — the very phenomena by which a spilled liquid on the kitchen table spontaneously wicks into the paper towel used to wipe it up.

At-home testing became crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic. But rapid tests have limited availability and can only drive one liquid across the strip, meaning most diagnostics are still done in central labs. Notably, the capillaric chips can be 3D-printed for various tests, including COVID-19 antibody quantification.

The study brings 3D printed home diagnostics one step closer to reality, though some challenges remain, such as regulatory approvals and securing necessary test materials. The team is actively working to make their technology more accessible, adapting it for use with affordable 3D printers. The innovation aims to speed up diagnoses, enhance patient care, and usher in a new era of accessible testing.