'Biosensor' chips can help docs make instant diagnoses

A*Star scientist Park Mi Kyoung has spun off silicon photonics technology - used for fast biomedical diagnostics - into a company called One BioMed, and is exploring further applications.
A*Star scientist Park Mi Kyoung has spun off silicon photonics technology - used for fast biomedical diagnostics - into a company called One BioMed, and is exploring further applications.PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Some diseases can take days or even weeks of testing to accurately diagnose, but Dr Park Mi Kyoung and her team are on track to change that with new devices based on semiconductor technology.

The scientists from the Agency for Science, Technology and Research's (A*Star) Institute of Microelectronics are developing devices embedded with chips, which will help doctors make on-the-spot diagnoses.

"Most existing testing is done in a hospital central lab... For instance, the patient gives a sample of blood and gets the result several days or weeks later," said Dr Park.

"We are trying to develop a point-of-care device that can detect the disease within 20 minutes."

This is possible because the technology used - called silicon photonics - is very sensitive and very fast, she added. The chip in the device acts as a "biosensor" to detect low concentrations of DNA in samples.

"(The diagnostic device) will help clinicians rapidly diagnose the patient and administer antibiotics, or isolate the patient immediately."

Dr Park and her team are working with Tan Tock Seng Hospital to develop a prototype device for diagnosing tuberculosis which will be placed at the hospital next year.

Meanwhile, Dr Park has spun off the technology into a company called One BioMed, and is exploring further applications.

The team is developing diagnostic devices for a number of illnesses, including sepsis, which is caused by the presence of harmful bacteria and their toxins, typically through the infection of a wound. The technology could also be used for cancer detection, she noted.

Outside the biomedical field, it has applications in food safety and screening, environmental testing and water screening.

Chia Yan Min

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2015, with the headline ''Biosensor' chips can help docs make instant diagnoses'. Print Edition | Subscribe