Blood tests are one of those things that always seem to slow down doctor appointments. You’re in the room. The nurse takes blood. The doctor sees you–speculates a lot–and agrees to contact you when the tests are done. It’s a silly way of doing things, but you can’t rush science.
Or can you?
The V-Chip (Volumetric Bar-Chart Chip) is a research project from Methodist Hospital Research Institute. It’s about the size of a business card, and with just a drop of your blood–no tricky vials needed–it runs 50 tests, even channeling red dye (no, that’s not blood!) to draw its own graph of results.
The chip lives between two glass plates, where each of the 50 wells is preloaded with things like antibodies and DNA–pretty much anything that may be able to react to biomarkers in your blood (those are specific proteins that can tell us something about a person’s health). When your blood hits these wells, a chain reaction occurs in which an enzyme triggers hydrogen peroxide to release oxygen. The amount of oxygen is indicative of the amount of the biomarker, so it pushes the dye up the bar graph the perfect amount. The chemical reaction being measured becomes the graph.
For instance, the V-Chip has been tested successfully to measure human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) proteins (which can be used to spot pregnancy and also some cancers). But as it often takes measuring many proteins to spot cancer, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s, it seems unlikely that a single V-Chip could screen for every possibility under the sun. At the same time, a few disease-targeted V-Chips could make for powerful diagnostic tools, especially in the developing world, where advanced lab equipment is more sparse. I asked project researcher Lidong Qin if the V-Chip would work for home use. He said it’s still only being considered as a professional product. For now, the design is being honed to work for medical personnel without the need for further instruction. But no doubt, whenever it’s refined to that point, the V-Chip can begin to be considered seriously for home use–a sector that will need a whole extra wave of usability testing, lest every young pregnant couple believe that they’re facing an onslaught of cancer.