A Breakthrough in Creating Biochips

September 13, 2018

A new method of printing biochips could help researchers use smaller samples for experiments, and reduce the cost of such chips.

a close-up photo of a micro biochip

A team of researchers from the Advanced Science Research Center‘s (ASRC) Nanoscience Initiative at The Graduate Center, CUNY, has developed a new method to print biochips. Their technique allows for printing multiple types of biological “probes,” each just a few micrometers wide, on the same chip. This research, published in the journal Chem, could potentially reduce the cost of creating these chips.

Biochips contain a large number of 3D–printed sensors, or probes, which are used to test material for biological properties. A biochip, for instance, can be used to analyze DNA or to screen for toxins. The sensors are microscopic, often just a few micrometers across. (For perspective, there are 24,500 micrometers in an inch.) Because they are so tiny, biochips only need a small sample of material to perform thousands of tests. As a result, they’ve helped further research in genomics, proteomics (the study of the set of proteins in a cell, tissue or organism), and diagnostics, among other fields.

To fit even more probes on one chip, researchers need printers that can print at even smaller scales. For existing tools to print multiple types of probes at such small sizes, it would involve radiation that would harm the chip’s surface. The ASRC team solved this challenge by combining aspects of microfluidic techniques, beam-pen lithography, and photochemical surface reactions.

“This is essentially a new nanoscale printer that allows us to imprint more complexity on the surface of biochip than any of the currently available commercial technologies,” said Professor Adam Braunschweig, lead researcher on the paper and Nanoscience Initiative faculty member. “It will help us to gain a much better understanding of how cells and biological pathways work.”

Decreasing the size of probes makes it possible to use even smaller amounts of the sample for experiments. The researchers also hope that their innovation will eventually lead to lower chip production costs. The team intends to keep working to further miniaturize biochip probes and bring the proof-of-concept technology to fruition by creating functional biochips.