University of Twente awarded €2.4m grant for research into point-of-care diagnostics

21 August 2008

The University of Twente in the Netherlands has been awarded a grant of €2.4 million euros from the European Research Council for its eLab4Life project that will research lab-on-a-chip systems for point-of-care diagnostics.

Lab-on-a-chip systems will bring the diagnostics laboratory to the patient. A blood or other sample will no longer have to go to the laboratory and the patient and doctor will no longer have to wait for the result to be returned.

Many groups around the world are trying to develop lab-on-a-chip systems, but so far there has been little progress beyond the laboratory.

According to Prof. Albert van den Berg, who leads the University of Twente’s BIOS lab-on-a-chip group, a real breakthrough can be expected from making special nanoscale structures for generating electrical fields that can be used to study individual cells or molecules. “So far a lot of experiments have been carried out with optical techniques that are sometimes difficult to integrate in a complete system. The new nanostructures we envisage will make it possible for us to miniaturize systems even further and to develop commercially-feasible equipment,” he said.

Precise control

Amongst other things, Prof. van den Berg anticipates that this research will provide opportunities for developing extremely sensitive chips that can detect biomarkers for cancer at a very early stage, and thus enable better treatment. He also wants to study cell growth on the new chips. The advantage of miniaturization here is that the environment in which the cell grows can be controlled very precisely.

This precision is a great advantage for the development of new medicines too: the researchers want, for example, to allow two types of cells to fuse on a chip to form new cells that will produce medicines.

Commercial spin-off

Professor Van den Berg’s group, a unit of the MESA+ Institute for Nanotechnology, has built up a global reputation in this field. A chip has, for instance, already been developed that gives point-of-care diagnostics for people who use the medicine lithium. The spin-off enterprise MediMate will be launching this development on the market in the near future.

In the eLab4Life project the group will be working together with Prof. Jurriaan Huskens' Molecular Nanofabrication group and Prof. Clemens van Blitterswijk’s Tissue Regeneration group.

The European Research Council’s Advanced Grants are European subsidies for research that opens up new horizons. One hundred and five of almost a thousand applications in the field of Physical Sciences and Engineering have been awarded one of these grants.

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