The chip, developed at Imperial College London and known as TriSilix, is a ‘micro laboratory’ which performs a miniature version of the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) on the spot. PCR is the gold-standard test for detecting viruses and bacteria in biological samples such as bodily fluids, feces, or environmental samples.
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, the same material that is used to make electronic chips. Silicon itself is cheap, however, it is expensive to process into chips which requires massive, ‘extremely clean’ factories otherwise known as 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.