‘Lab on a chip’ to revolutionise future healthcare

Fast and cheap diagnostic Lab-on-a-Chip devices form the core of the concept of personalised medicine. But these micro-labs are not yet as effective as they need to be. Now Dr Paul Vulto and his research team invented a technique that is ‘ready to revolutionise microfluidics’ according to leading microfluidics journal Lab on a Chip.

Patterened ridges

A Lab-on-a-Chip the size of a finger tip will allow fast, automated analysis of biochemical parameters

A Lab-on-a-Chip the size of a finger tip will allow fast, automated analysis of biochemical parameters

One problem with the small-scale devices used in this technology was that the minute chambers in the testing devices were difficult to fill completely. Vulto’s team at the Netherlands Metabolomics Centre (an initiative at the Leiden/Amsterdam Centre for Drug Research) have discovered a way of overcoming this problem. The researchers demonstrated that by strategically positioning ridges in the devices, they could completely fill and empty the complex microfluidic chambers and channels, independent of their shape. This means dramatically reduced sample consumption, faster analysis times and higher sensitivities that position microfluidics as the central element in the surge towards handheld systems for Point-of-Care diagnostics and personalized healthcare.


According to Vulto, the original vision of ‘Lab on a chip’ was to find a method of downscaling processes that normally take place in the laboratory into small, fully automated cartridges. An important driver for the research was economics, given that biological samples are precious and synthetic compounds are very expensive. Microfluidics allows us to carry out tens of thousands of experiments at the same time using only tiny amounts of biological material and reagents. In addition, most of the experimental work can be automated making use of physical phenomena that can be effectively exploited only at micro or nanometer scales.

Diagnostics at the point of care

This may sound far removed from the world of the man in the street. Not so, according to Vulto. ‘What was originally an economic motivation has now broadened to include the healthcare sector. Microfluidics makes it possible to offer opportunities for diagnostics at the point of care. Take the kind of lab tests that we all have to have done from time to time. The idea of lab on a chip is that many of these tests that currently can only be done in a specialist lab will in future be carried out by general practitioners using hand-held devices based on microfluidics. Much less costly, less time-consuming and a quicker result for the patient.’


Paul Vulto and his team are part of the Netherlands Metabolomics Centre, an initiative of the Leiden/Amsterdam Centre for Drug Research (LACDR).

Personalised medical care

Together with colleagues Dr Heiko van der Linden and Professor Thomas Hankemeier, Vulto is taking the concept even further. ‘Here at the Netherlands Metabolomics Centre, we aim for a medical treatment tailored to a person’s individual characteristics and needs. This requires detailed screening of a patient’s biochemical functioning so that the optimal medical treatment can be predicted. Fast and cheap diagnostic Lab-on-a-Chip devices are at the very centre of this personalised medicine concept. People will soon experience personally how Lab-on-a-Chip technology will revolutionise the healthcare system of tomorrow.'


Last Modified: 18-05-2011