Liquid Biopsy on a Chip       


Liquid Biopsy on a Chip - overview

What if testing for cancer or communicable disease like Zika could be fast, easy and non invasive as taking a home pregnancy test? The goal of the Liquid Biopsy on Chip project is to do just that. Using IBM’s leadership in silicon technology to develop a “lab on a chip” that will separate nanoscale-sized biological particles (DNA, RNA, and Exosomes) that make up cancers and viruses.


These particles are abundant in body fluids including the blood, urine or salvia and are about 20nm in diameter, roughly 1/5,000th of a human hair. They are the key in many cases to diagnosising, treating, and understanding the disease and how it is progressing. The ability of physicians detect and monitor a disease, even at its earliest stages, long before physical symptoms manifest and when the prognosis for treatment options are most effective could represent a huge step forward in medicine. As it’s the holy grail for medical professionals: treat people before they get chronically sick.

The Liquid Biopsy on a Chip relies on a technology known as a "nanoscale deterministic lateral displacement" or nanoDLD, a liquid sample can be passed, in a continuous flow, through a silicon chip especially designed with an asymmetric pillar array. This array allows the system to sort a microscopic waterfall of particles, separating particles by size down to tens of nanometers resolution. Separation occurs as smaller particles move in a zig-zag motion in the direction of the fluid, while larger particles bump through the array along the direction of pillar asymmetry, like truck drivers forced into the truck lane on a freeway, allowing materials of different sizes to be isolated for downstream detection or analysis.

Right now, the research is still in its earliest stages. The IBM Research team’s latest scientific results were published today in Nature Nanotechnology. As part of next steps, the team hopes to increase the volume and throughput of what the device can handle and to engineer the device so it can separate bioparticles smaller than 20 nanometers, thus taking them into the realm of individual proteins.