Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have designed a lab-on-a-chip that moves blood through a tiny device, using ramps to gradually sift cells according to weight and size. It functions like a tiny pinball machine: targeted items are isolated by the ramps they can't navigate, and are funneled to the side like little gutter balls.
The device can be modified by changing the length or height of the ramps, depending on what is being looked for. Depending on how the ramps are structured, heavier or longer items that can't navigate end up being trapped on the ramps.
The research team believes the device could be tweaked to sort based on criteria other than gravity or length. They believe there is the potential to isolate particles that contain certain electric or magnetic charges. And, in addition to searching for diseases the tiny lab on a chip could potentially look for things like certain drugs in the blood or even sort out unwanted chemicals in manufacturing processes.
Jorge A. Bernate is a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins and is lead author of the paper describing the device that will appear in the journal Physical Review Letters.