Lab-on-Chip Image
TriSilix performs a miniature version of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on the spot. (Credit: Imperial College of London)

A tiny new silicon-based lab-on-chip test could pave the way for cheap handheld infectious disease testing. The chip, known as TriSilix, is performs a miniature version of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on the spot.

Although PCR is usually performed in a laboratory, which means test results aren’t immediately available, this new lab-on-a-chip can process and present results in a matter of minutes.

The chip is made from silicon. Silicon itself is cheap; however, it is expensive to process into chips as this requires massive cleanrooms. To make the new lab-on-chip, the researchers developed a series of methods to produce the chips in a standard laboratory, cutting the costs and time they take to fabricate, potentially allowing them to be produced anywhere in the world.

The researchers have so far used it to diagnose a bacterial infection mainly present in animals as well as a synthetic version of the genetic material from SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19. The researchers say the system could in future be mounted onto handheld blood sugar test-style devices. This would let people test themselves and receive results at home for colds, flu, recurrent infections like those of the urinary tract, and COVID-19.

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