November 02, 2009 “Intelligence: Late Breaking Lab News”

Digital microfluidics and lab-on-a-chip technologies are being combined to create a new way to measure breast estrogen levels in women. An interdisciplinary group at the University of Toronto developed a lab-on-a-chip technique to analyze blood and breast tissue to identify women at risk of breast cancer. “Breast estrogen levels in women at risk are not routinely measured because conventional techniques require large tissue samples obtained through invasive biopsies,” observed Noha Mousa, M.D., a clinical fellow in the University of Toronto’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

MORE ON: Estrogen

The research team is working to develop less-invasive methods that avoid the need for a tissue biopsy. Moreover, because of the micro-technology used, a point-of-care testing device might be the end product. “The new methods we’ve developed may someday facilitate routine screening of clinical samples for analysis of hormones,” stated Aaron Wheeler, Ph.D., Director of the Wheeler Microfludics Lab in the Department of Chemistry. “We applied this technique for the first time to analyze hormones in tiny clinical samples—we looked at blood, serum, and breast cancer tissue. We developed methods to move droplets of several different kinds of reagents… to extract hormones and purify them—all on a device that can fit into the palm of a hand.”


US News & World Report is predicting that the coming surge of seasonal flu cases may not just overwhelm the ability of the nation’s labs to handle the increased number of flu tests, but it could also create delays in turnaround time for testing involving other diseases. This could potentially put patients at risk. In its story, US News & World Report also called attention to the shortage of trained laboratory professionals, noting that the inadequate supply of skilled labor constrains the ability of most laboratories to cope with the expected high demand for flu and other tests when the flu season hits this fall.


  • Rina Wolf has joined XIFIN, Inc., as Vice President of Commercialization Strategies, Consulting & Industry Affairs. She will consult with labs to help them “commercialize new molecular diagnostic assays and optimize their pricing and reimbursement strategies.”

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