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Multifunctional microchips adapted to demand

Scientists at the CSIC and the University of Barcelona have obtained microchips, which can be placed inside living cells or liquids to simultaneously detect several parameters. The developed technology enables the adaptation of the microchips according to the demand of customers.


Soft lithography techniques have a relatively low cost and a few steps. In every wafer up to 150 million of these microparticles can be obtained. Pictured, an area of a wafer with the planar microparticles. Image obtained by Scanning Electronics microscopy (SEM). The black line at the bottom right represents 3 micrometres.Most minuscule microelectronic devices can offer applications which seem from science-fiction. One of them are microchips which can be placed inside living cells for diagnostic or measuring parameters. This was done in 2010 by a team led by José Antonio Plaza, a scientist at the Instituto de Microelectronica de Barcelona (CSIC), and by Teresa Suárez, at the Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Biológicas. They developed small sensor chips, seized 3 x 3 micrometers, and placed them inside living cells to measure intracellular pressure.

Now, the same team at the Institute of Microelectronics of Barcelona (IMB-CNM), together with scientists at the Universitat de Barcelona, have developed soft lithography techniques on planar microparticles, in order to transform them in multifunction devices.

The planar microparticles are firstly manufactured with the same technology used to produce silicon chips. In every wafer up to 150 million of these microparticles can be obtained.

Afterwards, with a chemical treatment, DNA fragments, proteins or other biomarker molecules can be placed on the surface of the microparticles (or chips), in order to transform  them into multifunction sensors. The outcome is optically readable: it is based on the color change of the molecules as they bound to the target or when there is a biochemical change. The technology developed can make every microchip simultaneously detect three or more parameters and to adapt them to the needs of labs or companies.

"The novelty of our technology is that allows, with a relatively low investment, to obtain microchips that will measure up to tenths of parameters in many cells, at the same time. And to adapt them to the different requirements"

The great advantge of these microchips, explain José Antonio Plaza y Núria Torras, scientists at the IMB-CNM, is that they allow the simultaneous detection of several parameters.  “Nowadays, there are already very small microchips. And it is possible to introduce them in living cells. The novelty, now, is the technology we have developed which allows, with a relatively low investment, to obtain microchips that will measure up to three parameters and, in the near future, up to tenths of parameters in many cells, at the same time.  And to adapt them to the different requirements  of the laboratory customers”.

Applications are diverse. One of them is biomedical research, for biomedical trials with cell cultures or medical diagnosis. Scientists have demonstrated that these microchips can be introduced inside the cells. And although there will not necessarily be always a single chip for each cell, they have shown that introducing millions of identical microchips  in a cell-culture with millions of cells, the final proportion of cells with a single chip is statistically enough for the validity of the trial run.

More applications are in the chemical industry, such as analyzing simultaneously several substances in micrometric volumes. Again, it is the possibility of adapting the microchips to the demand of the company customers which provides a broad range of possibilities. Another possible use, in the long term, is drug transportation.

Contact:

Isabel Gavilanes-Pérez, PhD
Deputy Vice-Presidency
for Knowledge Transfer, CSIC
Tel.: + 34  93 594 77 00
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