IBM 5 in 5 | Five innovations that will help change our lives within five years

Medical labs “on a chip” will serve as health detectives for tracing disease at the nanoscale

The people that shaped the future
 

In 5 years, new medical labs on a chip will serve as nanotechnology health detectives – tracing invisible clues in our bodily fluids and letting us know immediately if we have reason to see a doctor. The goal is to shrink down to a single silicon chip all of the processes necessary to analyze a disease that would normally be carried out in a full-scale biochemistry lab.

 

Today

 

Early detection of disease is crucial. In most cases, the earlier the disease is diagnosed, the more likely it is to be cured or well controlled. However, diseases like cancer or Parkinson’s can be hard to detect – hiding in our bodies before symptoms appear. Information about the state of our health can be extracted from tiny bioparticles in bodily fluids such as saliva, tears, blood, urine and sweat. Existing scientific techniques face challenges for capturing and analyzing these bioparticles, which are thousands of times smaller than the diameter of a strand of human hair.

 

In five years

 

Lab-on-a-chip technology could ultimately be packaged in a convenient handheld device to allow people to quickly and regularly measure the presence of biomarkers found in small amounts of bodily fluids, sending this information securely streaming into the cloud from the convenience of their home. There it could be combined with real-time health data from other IoT-enabled devices, like sleep monitors and smart watches, and analyzed by AI systems for insights. When taken together, this data set will give us an in depth view of our health and alert us to the first signs of trouble, helping to stop disease before it progresses.

 

How this could change the world

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Early detection

Nanobiotechnology techniques will enable the detection of nanoscale-sized clues into our health, letting us know immediately if we have reason to see a doctor.

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Noninvasive testing

Convenient handheld devices could allow people to quickly and regularly measure the presence of biomarkers found in small amounts of bodily fluids to potentially reveal signs of disease.

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Know when we aren't contagious

Easily analyze fluids to know when you can no longer pass illnesses like the flu on to others.

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Complete view of health

Stream information from nanotechnology "detectives" into the cloud where it can be combined with data from other IoT enabled devices, like sleep monitors and smart watches, and analyzed by AI systems for insights.

At IBM

Nanotechnology will enable automated liquid biopsy diagnostics that make it easier to regularly screen for diseases such as cancer so we can catch them earlier, greatly improving treatment options.

 

At IBM Research, scientists are developing lab-on-a-chip nanotechnology that can separate and isolate bioparticles down to 20 nanometers in diameter, a scale that gives access to DNA, viruses and exosomes. These particles could be analyzed to potentially reveal signs of disease even before we have symptoms. This technique is known as liquid biopsy, designed to be more accessible, comfortable and convenient than traditional tissue biopsy or cancer screening techniques.

 
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IBM Research has developed a lab-on-a-chip technology capable of processing up to a milliliter of bodily fluid from a patient.

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IBM researchers at work in the Nanobiotechnology Lab at IBM T.J. Watson Research Center.

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A silicon wafer designed by IBM scientists to sort particles found in bodily fluids for the purpose of early disease detection.

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A fully operational prototype for processing a patient's liquid biopsy, such as a urine sample, for analysis.

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