MicroPREP: New advances in sample purification

Health Science

MicroPREP is Canadian lab-on-a-chip technology that is based on centrifugal microfluidics and uses smartphone-sized microfluidic chips. From a sample of body fluids, MicroPREP technology can isolate multiple macro-molecules such as DNA, proteins or rare cells, making it possible to assess immune system state, inflammation, bone loss or radiation effects. While it is currently being developed for Earth applications, the innovation could one day allow for various new science experiments to be conducted in space.

Background

Blood contains many different substances, including cells, platelets, nutrients, hormones, and waste products. Purification is the first step in gathering accurate information about a specific component, like DNA.

On Earth, highly trained personnel in specialized laboratories refine and concentrate liquids. Astronauts conducting science experiments in space do not have access to this kind of equipment, and their busy schedules do not permit them to spend large amounts of time preparing samples for study.

MicroPREP's automated technology, compact size, and unique approach to purification could facilitate and accelerate the process of analyzing samples on Earth and in space. This new approach has the potential to empower personalized precision medicine in both clinical and remote settings by significantly reducing the sample preparation time and size, and human intervention required during medical testing.

The chip system also has great potential for being used in space, particularly to support medical diagnoses during human deep-space exploration missions.

MicroPREP

The automated lab-on-a-chip technology isolates components of liquid samples. (Credit: National Research Council of Canada)

Objectives

MicroPREP aims to:

 Impacts on Earth

By means of a variety of microfluidic chips, MicroPREP technology automates and integrates complex biological tests. This technology makes it possible to isolate specific components of biological samples and automate the detection of pathogens. It might also help make medical testing less invasive. It will be used at Canada's first micro-analytics research centre, in partnership with the Centre hospitalier universitaire Sainte-Justine (Sainte-Justine University Hospital Centre), to target specific cancers and other pediatric diseases.

Its wide range of application even extends into other fields, such as the food security sector, where it is essential to be able to isolate bacteria and viruses in order to prevent public health issues.

How it works

  1. The technician selects the MicroPREP chip according to the type of test being performed.
  2. A sample of blood is added to MicroPREP's intake chamber.
  3. The chip is placed into a dedicated centrifuge designed to separate blood into its components. While being spun at high speed, the chip measures out a precise volume. MicroPREP uses only 0.3 millilitres to perform its purification.
  4. MicroPREP isolates the targeted molecules, strips away sample impurities and extracts a concentrate that can be used for testing.

MicroPREP has been tested during a parabolic flight, a way to assess the performance of new technology in weightlessness. During a parabolic flight, a modified jet flies in a pattern that creates 15-20 second periods of microgravity, allowing for the anticipation of problems that might occur in space.

Timeline

In partnership with the Canadian Space Agency, engineers and scientists at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) began designing MicroPREP in 2014. They continue working to adapt the chip system to existing conditions on board the International Space Station, so it could one day be sent to space.

Researcher

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