INVENTORS OF THE COMPACT-disk player hoped it would revolutionize audio, but did they figure on making waves in medical diagnostics? Gamera Bioscience Corp. in Cambridge, Mass., is using a modified CD system to create a portable laboratory dubbed the LabCD. The machine will simultaneously perform most standard blood tests plus DNA analyses, says Chairman Alec Mian.
The trick is deceptively simple: Use centrifugal force to move tiny amounts of fluid across the disk. That way, the system doesn't need costly micropumps to move samples. LabCD doesn't need pumps. A tiny drop of blood is placed in a small hole near the center of the CD, and its spinning motion separates the cells and pushes them into other receptacles containing chemicals that perform the tests or amplify DNA. Finally, sensors detect the results. "It's very good physics," says Marc J. Madou, a microfluidics expert at Ohio State University who consults for Gamera.
Mian predicts his LabCD will make medical tests more widely available and produce faster results than central diagnostic labs. Ambulance drivers could conduct blood tests for drugs and alcohol, for example. The device should be out by late 1998 for about $1,000, Mian says, and disks containing 10 to 20 tests will cost "a few dollars."