Fast "lab-on-a-chip" at your fingertips
Scientists soon may be able to fabricate elaborate palm-sized "laboratories" more easily and for about a quarter of the cost of current methods. Now the process requires expensive, specialized equipment and hours of time. But with off-the-shelf supplies, Associate Professor David Beebe and Research Scientist Glennys Mensing can make multilayered microfluidic devices in about a half hour.
They fabricate the devices like a chef makes an open-faced sandwich. A standard microscope slide forms the base. Next is a Hybriwell (a polycarbonate film with an adhesive gasket), which comes with pull-off backing and adheres to the slide's edges. To create channels in the Hybriwell, the two fill the space between it and the slide with a photopolymer, and lay a mask, or diagram of the channel, atop the Hybriwell. Then they expose the layers to ultraviolet light, which bonds the photopolymer to the slide and Hybriwell and creates channels where the mask blocked the UV light. By adding additional Hybriwells and following the same process, Mensing and Beebe can create separate or interconnected layers tailored to their specifications.
Because they can make these laboratories with multiple capabilities, including filtering, diluting, mixing and readout, researchers could use them to synthesize chemicals, conduct genetic analyses, screen drugs, analyze water samples and more all on a very small scale.
A powerful diagnostic tool, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be slow, with each image taking many seconds or minutes to build. But Professor Charles Mistretta and his team have patented new technologies that promise to make MRI speedy enough to catch fleeting events, such as the instant a contrast-enhancing chemical begins to course through a blood vessel during angiography. The technique quickly captures a series of images ensuring that one provides an ideal diagnostic view and creates vivid, 3-D images with less background interference.
Conventional MRI assembles each image from data in k-space, an alternate data universe. By sampling and combining only critical elements of this data, Mistretta's team can construct quality images much faster. As a result, patients will experience fewer uncomfortable minutes inside scanners and physicians will gain faster access to high-quality diagnostic images. Future benefits may include motion-correcting algorithms for times when patients squirm in the scanner.
Preventing identity theft
PINs and passwords guard access to everything from bank accounts to E-mail. But the so-called information safeguards are easy to forget and even easier to steal.
They are among a growing group of researchers using biometrics a person's measurable anatomical, physiological or behavioral traits to verify identity. Current technologies scan fingerprints, hands, irises, retinas and faces, or analyze a voice or signature. The team hopes to add electrocardiogram (ECG) recognition to the mix.
To test the theory that each person's ECG is unique, the three developed an algorithm that analyzed and identified 20 ECGs correctly. Eventually they will design an inexpensive device that reads about 10 heartbeats and compares that personal sample with data stored on computer chips embedded in "smart cards" such as credit cards and IDs.
An easier MRI biopsy method
While doctors increasingly use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to find tiny masses of suspicious breast tissue they cannot see with mammography or ultrasound, the biopsy procedure coupled with this emerging breast-imaging technology is inexact and lengthy. Currently, radiologists make several manual adjustments until the biopsy needle is in the vicinity of the suspicious tissue.
A new device, created by BME students Bill Andrae, Eric Dvorak and Justin Kolterman, Professor Frank Fronczak (also mechanical engineering) and Associate Radiology Professor Frederick Kelcz, could improve the procedure's accuracy and reduce its time from an hour to about 20 minutes. It features a computer-driven needle positioner that radiologists can operate and adjust from the MRI control room. Made from molded plastic and stainless steel, it won't interfere with the MRI's magnets. The group is patenting the invention through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation.