At first glance, it’s an otherwise ordinary-looking business park in Oxford, England.
But behind the walls sits a thriving hub of high-tech innovation that’s helping revolutionize industries and change our world.
I’m talking about Sharp Laboratories of Europe – a British company owned by Japanese electronics giant, Sharp Corporation (SHCAY).
It’s a highly productive relationship. As Sharp Labs’ website notes, “Our funding to do research and development comes from Sharp and in return, we provide technology that can be used in Sharp products. So far, our technology has gone into mobile phones, smart cards, personal computers, laptops and displays for cars.”
But the hot shot team of over 100 scientists, engineers and mathematicians isn’t just about fashioning electronics as the end product. One field is combining electronics with medical science to create a truly revolutionary device.
The Science That Puts Blood Testing in the Fast Lane
Everyone has had a blood test done at some point in their lives. But think about the usual procedure: You have to get yourself to a hospital or clinic, get the blood drawn, then wait a few days for the results.
If the test is checking for something particularly important, that wait can be agonizing.
That’s where microfluidics comes in – technology that promises to catapult the traditional blood test into the 21st Century.
Simply put, it combines blood analysis with microelectronics to achieve two major objectives:
- Mobility: Blood tests will become mobile. Using a 4-5 cm. device that fits in the hand, a test can be conducted anywhere. It’s essentially a mobile lab.
- Speed: Crucially, it dramatically speeds up the results process, too. Patients no longer have to wait days for a diagnosis… the results are known in minutes.
The impressive microfluidics innovation is being led by Ben Hadwen, a Research Scientist at Sharp Labs’ Health and Energy Technology Group, in partnership with my hometown University of Southampton.
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So what is microfluidics? Well, as the name suggests, it’s basically the science and analysis of fluids on a very precise, microscopic scale. We’re talking the sub-millimeter level here. And it only takes a very small amount of liquid, too.
Using the microelectronics in Sharp’s LCDs, Hadwen and his team get to work on meshing electronics will medicine. Quoted on Humans Invent, Hadwen explains how it works: “We place a droplet of blood onto the substrate [Ed. Note, a semiconductor plate] and electronics underneath are splitting it up into smaller sub-droplets, performing a series of chemical reactions on the blood. With simple microfluidic chips, we can input fluid via pods and then using electronics and fluidics, we can create controlled chemical reactions to do difficult bio-chemical diagnostic tests, all on this little chip in a matter of minutes to give a result to a trained health professional.”
Using just one drop of blood, the microfluidics technology can test for a range of ailments.
And it’s not just about blood testing, either. Ultimately, the technology could be used to analyze other liquids – for example, urine – to scan for other illnesses, infections and viruses.
Hadwen continues, “Where currently, that would have to be done in a hospital… that takes several hours. With our technology, it would be possible to do it in the doctor’s surgery during your appointment, producing a very accurate picture of what might be wrong with you, so he can you treat you there and then.”
Coming to a Doctor’s Surgery Near You…
Up to now, the technology simply hasn’t existed to make blood tests portable and fast. But microfluidics is changing that – and adding much greater versatility into the mix.
And because the development is under Sharp’s massive umbrella, both the funding and mass production capabilities are there to bring this technology to market quicker.
The goal for Hadwen and his team is to get the device into every doctor’s surgery and healthcare facility in a few years, as because the benefits for both short-term and long-term patients alike are so compelling.
Ahead of the tape,