The next time you offer an arm to give vials of blood for tests, think about Dongqing Li, a mechanical and mechatronics engineering professor.
Li develops various microfluidic devices, one of which requires only a tiny sample of blood to get results. How tiny? “Instead of millilitres, we’re using nanolitres,” he says.
The technology is also lightning fast. Instead of hours, days or weeks to get results, Li talks about minutes and seconds since the duration of the biochemical reaction is proportional to the number of molecules to be treated. Fewer – a lot fewer – molecules equal real-time solutions.
His lab-on-a-chip technologies are so small and inexpensive compared to a conventional bio-medical lab in a hospital that Li predicts they will eventually change how blood samples are taken and read. Instead of wheeling vials of blood down to a hospital lab a handheld machine would be in the room with the patient or steps away.
Now a varied number of industries are clamoring to talk to Li. The Canada Food Safety Research Centre wants his technology to identify bacteria in food samples. Meanwhile, a large, Toronto-based infertility clinic wants it to find ways to increase its pregnancy success rates.
“I think this is a very promising area,” says Li. “We’re not just providing fundamental research, we’ll be providing technology benefits to Canadian society as a whole.”