When people talk about microfluidic devices and their potential applications, they always talk about the cheapness and portability of viral detection and delivery devices. There always is an undercurrent, though, of startups, price points, and giant companies being used for distribution and sales. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but such an important and potentially life-saving technology doesn't need to be so tightly controlled by those with the biggest financial interests.
That's one reason it's so uplifting to find out about Diagnostics for All—a non-profit organization that is trying to bring lab-on-a-chip technologies to parts of the world that may not be able to afford it. The company uses a patterned paper platform for their diagnostic devices. From the site:
To fabricate a diagnostic device, DFA patterns channels and assay zones (or wells) of water-repellent materials into a piece of paper roughly the size of a postage stamp. Biological and chemical assay reagents are then deposited in the wells. When blood, urine, saliva, sweat or other biological samples are applied to the device, the paper wicks the sample through the channels to the assay zones, without external pumps or power. Upon contact, the assay zone quickly changes color and results are then easily read by comparing the color change with a reference scale printed on the device. After use, the device can be easily disposed of by burning. As we develop more advanced diagnostics, DFA's paper devices can be embedded with electrical circuitry to enable resistive heating, electrochemical assays, or initial processing of assay results.
And the reason this project—started in 2007 by Harvard's George Whitesides—is gaining attention now is because the company announced this week that it has just received a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The grant is "designed to support a global health research project for the diagnosis of HIV in Third World countries."
Just the fact that this kind of hybrid biotech/non-profit company can exist and gain support from someone as influential and charitable as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation serves to remind the research community of the real importance of their work—saving lives.