SAN JOSE, Calif. It's nearly time for bioengineering researchers and embedded systems designers to start working to deliver devices for a new era of personalized medicine, according to a speaker at the Embedded Systems Conference.
A growing set of nano-scale components are emerging from the lab that someday will power handheld devices that can provide custom health care advice. The systems will marry novel bioengineering components with existing computer and consumer technologies, said Luke P. Lee, professor of bioengineering at an ESC talk Wednesday (April 28).
"My prediction or hope is this we are coming to the end of a time of studying the fundamentals of biotech, enabling new applications for personalized, preventive and predictive medicine that integrates IT, biotech and nanotech," said Luke who began his academic career a decade ago after working in electronics companies such as TRW.
|Luke Lee, Professor of Bioengineering, University of California, Berkeley|
The new devices he envisions "could examine your physiological data every week and help you behave based on examining very sensitive biomarkers that may determine, for example, you have 50 percent chance of getting cancer with your current diet," Lee said.
He detailed dozens of research projects over the past decade that have helped define new ways to measure information on living cells at the molecular level. "If we integrate these nano-scale sensors and disposable microfluidic chips, all we need is an optical or electrical detection subsystem like a CMOS camera in a device like an iPhone," said Lee.
In a take-off on the iPhone, Lee dubbed the resulting handsets integrated molecular diagnostic systems or iMDs.
"Many people have done these component-level experiments, and now it's time to integrate them with embedded systems," said Lee. "I personally believe if we work together this is possible," he added.
Lee described some of a dozen so-called biological ASICs researchers at Berkeley and elsewhere have developed to date. The devices typically use fluid pulses in low- and high-power microfluidic channels, sometimes combined with MEMS structures.
The bio-ASIC use a mixture of concepts borrowed from both from electronics and nature. For instance they typically use three mask layers of different nano-scale etched microfluidic channels.
One device is designed to mimic the conditions of cells in living tissues, creating a more dynamic environment for biological experiments than a traditional Petri dish. "We need a new platform for engineers to do experiments to control factors so we have to create a new kind of Petri dish," he said.
The bio-ASICs are essentially lab-on-a-chip devices that aim to conduct molecular-level tests in minutes or hours compared to days in traditional labs.
Lee also described several approaches to building nano-scale sized microscopes, structures that can capture spectroscopic fingerprints about molecular components in a living cell. Some used structures borrowed from an insect's eye to create dome-like arrays of lenses based on fluidic pressure, others used specially charged structures inserted into a cell.
Details of some of the projects from Lee's Berkeley group are available online.