Biochip boosts cell data

Purdue University researchers have developed a biochip that measures the electrical activities of cells and is capable of obtaining 60 times more data in one reading than currently possible.

In the near term, the biochip could accelerate scientific research and drug development for muscle and nerve disorders like epilepsy and help create more productive crop varieties.

‘Instead of doing one experiment per day, as is often the case, this technology is automated and capable of performing hundreds of experiments in one day,’ said Marshall Porterfield, a professor of agricultural and biological engineering who leads the team developing the chip.

The device works by measuring the concentration of ions as they enter and exit cells. The chip can record these concentrations in up to 16 living cells temporarily sealed within fluid-filled pores in the microchip. With four electrodes per cell, the chip delivers 64 simultaneous, continuous sources of data.

The chip directly records ion concentrations without harming the cells, whereas present methods cannot directly detect specific ions, and cells being studied typically are destroyed in the process. There are several advantages to retaining live cells, Porterfield said, such as being able to conduct additional tests or monitor them as they grow.

Cells are sealed inside 16 pyramidal pores in the 10mm square chip and then can be removed intact to, for instance, screen and identify different crop lines and grow the most suitable plants from the cells.

Porterfield believes that with some modifications the chip will be able to measure multiple ions at once and perform even more advanced functions such as electrically stimulating a cell with one electrode while recording the reaction with the remaining three. This would allow the study of drugs which target ion channels, such as lidocaine, or natural venoms and toxins which work by blocking these channels, including the venom of certain snakes and strychnine.