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News Archive 2001 - 2010

Small Machines May Lead to Big Benefits for Medical Patients

April 8, 2002

Another disposable medical product is on the horizon, one that could revolutionize the current testing-diagnosis-treatment procedure. People needing to continually monitor their medical condition will be able to use a "lab on a chip" that tests blood/liquid samples and immediately sends the results to a physician's computer via the Internet. All for less than $10.

Professor Shiv Joshi and Assistant Professor Panos Shiakolas in The University of Texas at Arlington's Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Department are developing a manufacturing process for single-use bio-MEMS - microelectromechanical systems with micron-sized operating features. Their micro-machining process utilizes a powerful laser that emits light in femto-second (10-15) bursts to literally evaporate unwanted portions of materials. A major problem, however, is to translate this process into a quick and affordable, everyday manufacturing practice. For example, most micro-sized products, such as integrated circuits, are batch produced; up to a thousand or more from one silicon wafer. The combination of mechanical and electronic features in a bio-MEMS means a much more complicated and time-consuming manufacturing process.

In addition to monitoring a patient's medical status, a bio-MEMS could be used for customized drug delivery and inexpensive DNA sequencing. Since this is a two-year study, more uses are anticipated before implementation. This time frame will also allow the team to investigate cheaper raw materials, such as plastic, to be used in the manufacturing process.

Eight students - four undergraduates, two-master's and two Ph.D.s - are assisting Joshi and Shiakolas. The group's efforts are supported by a $391,500 applied research technology grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board and $267,000 in Library, Equipment, Repair and Rehabilitation (LERR) funds. Joshi and Shiakolas hope to have a process ready for commercial licensing by the spring of 2004.