IBM Lab-on-a-Chip Nanochannel Technology Can “Stretch” DNA, Has Potential to Help Detect Disease

On May 15, 2017, IBM announced that its scientists have developed a "lab-on-a-chip" technology that can stretch double-stranded DNA molecules with the potential to efficiently reveal biomarkers that may indicate disease. This technology complements the IBM Research's "lab-on-a-chip" nanaDLD technology ( which separates bioparticles, such as exosomes, which may also contain biomarkers for disease detection. The nanochannel technology, which uses an array of diamond-shaped micropillars to pre-stretch DNA from its coiled state, before being pushed through the chip's nanochannels, could allow medical professionals to detect the presence of genomic alterations in the DNA molecules. Scientists have discovered that certain genetic alterations, such as fusions of different parts of DNA, or an unusual amplification of the number of copies of certain genes, or a simple change in the DNA sequence can increase susceptibility to disease, or be the sign of a developing cancer. The challenge is detecting these alterations in DNA with affordable and easy-to-deploy technology. Today, medical labs can detect genomic alterations from patients' DNA samples, but it requires lengthy, expensive processing of DNA samples from a tissue biopsy or from blood. Using standard silicon chip technology may enable the detection of these DNA alterations to be compact, more cost-effective, and easier for mass production. IBM's goal is to integrate the fluidic chip with electronics that make it possible to transmit the data from the chip to datacenters for analysis.
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