PORTLAND, Ore. An Office of Naval Research program seeks to embed a field hospital-on-a-chip that could monitor a soldier's injuries and administer medications. If successful, the four-year, $1.6 million program would provide U.S. soldiers with a wearable device to constantly monitor vital signs and help treat wounds.
Microfluidic laboratories on-a-chip are being crafted for a variety of special-purpose devices that would allow unskilled personnel to perform specialized tests in the field. Inexpensive lab on-a-chip devices are also being designed to lower the cost and increase the speed of common medical tests. A hospital on-a-chip, however, would be the first multipurpose microfluidic chip capable of making complex diagnoses and administering different drugs.
According to the researchers Evgeny Katz of Clarkson University (Potsdam, N.Y.) and Joseph Wang of the University of California-San Diego, treatment within the first 30 minutes after sustaining a battlefield wound is essential to saving soldiers' lives. The hospital-on-a-chip would allow soldier to automatically receive emergency treatment, even if unconscious.
The researchers said they already have a blueprint for realizing their "sense-and-treat" system. The chip would monitor fluids like sweat and blood for the "biomarkers" of common battlefield injuries such as shock or fatigue. It would then automatically inject the appropriate drugs. Katz will measure biomarkers in body fluids using custom designed enzymes that enable the chip to make a battlefield diagnosis. Wang will build a prototype hospital-on-a-chip that uses microfluidic channels to process enzymes, deduce a diagnosis and administer the proper drug.
Eventually, the researchers plan to make the device implantable so that it can not only increase survival rates on the battlefield but also constantly monitor individual soldiers' health.