For the last decade, IBM has asked its brain trust of scientists and researchers to pick the five hottest of the hot technologies on the cusp of broad adoption. This year’s 5 in 5 list focuses on how advances in nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and semiconductor fabrication can lead to a new generation of instruments and tools.
n 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.
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.
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.
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.