Writer: Jana Chan
Current Solutions and Their Insufficiencies
According to the Canary Foundation, one in three women and one in two men in the US are diagnosed with cancer and more than 560,000 will die from it every year (“Early Detection,” n.d.). The most effective way to lower these numbers is through early detection and intervention (“Early Detection,” n.d.). In situations where a patient’s condition will progressively deteriorate as more time passes, diagnosing and treating that particular disease as soon as possible will be vital to increasing their chances of survival or at the very least, provide greater treatment options.
One solution can be seen through the continued development of portable laboratories which can make early diagnoses more accessible and convenient. Stemming from major discoveries made in microfluidics, an interdisciplinary field that attempts to understand the physics of fluids confined to the sub-millimeter scale, the creation of light and compact chips have been able to act as these portable laboratories (Nikoleli et al., 2018). There are many different but largely interchangeable terms to describe these portable laboratories, such as lab-on-a-chip (LOC) technology, microchips, and microfluidic chips. In this proposal, however, this technology will be referred to as microfluidic chips.
First proposed by Michael Widner in the 1980s and expanded on theoretically in the 1990s, the main purpose of these microfluidic chips is to integrate multiple laboratory techniques into one minuscule system (Alarishi & Bach, 2014). The most striking feature of this system is that it will ultimately fit onto a chip of about a few centimeters in size. Integral to the development of microfluidic chips is, as mentioned before, the field of microfluidics where situations that deal with precise manipulation and control greatly impact its design. Microscopic labs are etched onto chips made of glass, plastic, silicone, and polymers while micro-channels are molded to fit the desired experiment (Wu, 1998). Through a combination of a miniature sensing system, intricate surface patterning, pumps, and valves, any substance analyzed on these microfluidic chips can be observed as a computer carefully examines the substance’s complex interactions (Alarishi & Bach, 2014; Wu, 1998).
Figure 1. Image of a microfluidic chip, a device that can integrate laboratory functions onto a tiny chip. Retrieved October 29, 2020, from AZO Life Sciences: https://www.azolifesciences.com/article/What-is-Lab-on-a-Chip.aspx
The greatest benefit of a microfluidic chip is its usefulness in medical services through early detection of disease. For example, they are essential to “increasing the ability to detect the protein signatures of a disease or infection on blood samples and body fluids before the symptoms arise” (Alarishi & Bach, 2014). In fact, the recent development of a microfluidic device allowed researchers to isolate individual cancer cells from blood samples (Zhou et al., 2019). Instead of a costly and often uncomfortable tissue biopsy or other surgical procedure, a simple blood draw can be done for early detection. With high accuracy and efficiency, these microfluidic chip devices are ideal for implementation in the healthcare industry. Furthermore, there are many benefits to the small sizes of microfluidic chips. For instance, blood samples or other body fluids are only needed in small amounts. Therefore, only having small amounts of a substance will not be a limitation nor will any potentially precious resources be wasted. This is perfect for diagnosing cancers with the method discussed in the 2019 study as tumor cells are found circulating the blood in extremely small quantities (Zhou et al., 2019). With such small sizes, microfluidic chips will also not require high production costs, making this technology extremely cost-effective. Moreover, microfluidic chips reduce the need for a centralized laboratory as these chips are portable and lightweight (Daw & Finkelstein, 2006).
However, one of the biggest disadvantages of these microfluidic chips is their delicate nature. Because they are so fragile and require such specialized knowledge of microfluidics and other fields to operate, it may be difficult to envision the usage of these microfluidic chips in everyday life. Thus, if modified to be more patient-friendly, microfluidic chips could then be used as a reliable and efficient at-home diagnostic test. For example, patients could stop by a clinic, hospital, or other designated pick-up sites to obtain a chip to bring home. At home, they can test themselves and receive their results relatively quickly. But, as stated before, this technology is still extremely delicate and not patient-friendly. Often, it requires a solid understanding of microfluidics and how the chip itself works to be used properly. Clearly, proper usage of the chip must occur as improper usage could result in a false positive or false negative diagnosis. Thus, I propose the following to make these microfluidics chips more accessible to the public.
To begin, the author explicitly states that she will use the term “microfluidic chips” to reference the technology because it maintains consistency and allows the reader to easily follow the proposal. She also creates a smoother read by defining terms such as “microfluidics.” Furthermore, all the information in this proposal is relevant to the issue that she is trying to address. The author had the opportunity to mention other advantages, disadvantages, and history of the microfluidic chip but only chooses information that relates to her topic. Thus, her proposal remains concise. Additionally, she follows proper scientific writing rules, such as APA format, APA citation, and third-person writing (except for the last sentence as that transitions to a discussion of the author’s proposed solution).
One area that the author could have improved was writing with greater clarity and more specificity. For example, certain sentences were written in a way that was hard to understand. Other areas would have greatly benefitted from a more detailed and nuanced explanation of the functions of the microfluidic chips and how it works. In particular, a labeled diagram illustrating the individual components of the chip could have improved understanding of the functions behind microfluidic chips.
Alarishi, B., & Bach, C. (2014). The Future of Laboratory Work Lab-On-Chip Device: An Overview.
Innovative Space of Scientific Research Journals (ISSR), 6(2), 187-191. Retrieved October 28, 2020, from https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.680.6277&rep=rep1&
Canary Foundation. (n.d.). Early Detection Facts and Figures. https://www.canaryfoundation.org/wp-
Cheriyedath, S. (2020, October 1). What is Lab-on-a-Chip? AZO Life Sciences. Retrieved October 28,
Daw, R. & Finkelstein, J. (2006). Lab on a chip. Nature, 442(367). https://doi.org/10.1038/442367a
Wu, C. (1998). The Incredible Shrinking Laboratory: Microchips May Revolutionize Chemistry as They
Did Computers. Science News, 154(7). Retrieved October 15, 2020, from https://www.questia.
Zhou, J., Kulasinghe, A., Bogseth, A., O’Byrne, K., Punyadeera, C., & Papautsky, I. (2019). Isolation of
circulating tumor cells in non-small-cell-lung-cancer patients using a multi-flow microfluidic
channel. Microsystems & Nanoengineering, 5(1). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41378-019-0045-6
[Photograph of a microfluidic chip for cover image]. Retrieved from AZO Life Sciences on October 28,