It is the same thing that makes the kinda chips you would put in a computer, but IBM scientists have developed a flexible, non-contact microfluidic probe made from silicon that can accurately stain tissue sections at the micrometer scale, and can aid pathologists to investigate critical tissue samples accurately.
The eight millimeter-wide, diamond-shaped probe consists of a silicon microfluidic head with two microchannels at each tip. Similar to an inkjet printer cartridge, the head injects the liquid on the surface, but then unlike a printer, it continuously aspirates the liquid to prevent spreading and accumulation on the surface, which can lead to overexposure. The probe can deliver an antibody very locally in a selected area of a tissue section with pinpoint accuracy, says IBM. Analysis can be done on spots and lines instead of on the entire tissue section. Only a few picoliters (one trillionth of a liter) of liquid containing antibodies are needed for each analysis spot.
The research is based on IBM’s decades of experience with silicon, which is now being applied to novel micro and nanotechnologies. IBM scientists will continue to test and improve the probe and potentially begin using it in laboratory environments in the next several months, says the company.
Tissue staining is widely used in pathology to detect disease markers in a patient’s sample. More specifically, a particular disease marker is bound with an antibody, which is then chemically colored or stained on the tissue. The intensity of the color classifies and determines the extent of a disease.
“A key aspect of taking clinical samples is to ensure a high diagnostic capability while minimizing patient discomfort—the probe developed by IBM scientists does exactly that. The probe allows one to stain a very small section of a tissue with virtually any biomarker that may be clinically relevant. This capability allows the clinician to not only do more with a smaller sample, but will also allow the use of multiple stains on the same sample, therefore increasing the accuracy of the diagnosis,” said Prof. Dr. Ali Khademhosseini, Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.