Called mChip, the handheld device uses a microchip to perform intricate medical tests for illnesses such as sexually transmitted diseases or prostate cancer. It needs just a drop of blood to diagnose a patient, and results come back in 12 to 15 minutes. This lab-on-a-chip method miniaturizes and simplifies the once time-consuming system of analyzing diagnostic tests results.
“Diagnosis of infectious diseases is very important in the developing world in general, but especially for pregnant women because they can pass these STDs on to their newborns,” said Sia, 34. “When you’re in these villages, you may have the drugs for many STDs, but you don’t know who to give treatments to, so the challenge really comes down to diagnostics.”
In August, Sia was named one of the world’s top young innovators for 2010 by MIT’sTechnology Review for his work in biotechnology and medicine. In 2008, he received a career award from the National Science Foundation, which included a $400,000 grant to support his other research specialty in three-dimensional tissue engineering.
A version of the mChip that tests for prostate cancer has been developed by Sia’s lab and Claros Diagnostics Inc., a company he co-founded in 2004, and has been approved for use in Europe.
The next step, he says, is making sure that those test results are acted upon quickly. Sia’s lab has recently found a way to integrate a mobile communications component into the mChip. In Rwanda, where more than 40,000 patients have electronic health records, the mChip can automatically send test results for inclusion in those records via a cell phone chip or satellite. That, in turn, can help ensure the results will quickly lead to a treatment plan.