The use of biochips in healthcare applications is continuously gaining traction due to its versatile capabilities. Biochips have the potential to revolutionize disease diagnosis, monitoring, and treatment.
What are Biochips?
A biochip is a microchip that is used to handle biological samples like DNA, proteins, or cells. It is made up of a solid substrate that has array of miniaturized test sites arranged in an orderly pattern. These test sites are treated with specific capture molecules that detect and bind target analytes from biological samples.
The binding event is then detected using optical, electrochemical or other transducers and visualized with the help of microfluidics, lasers or cameras. The results are interpreted by specialized software to provide clinical information. Some key characteristics of biochips include high sensitivity and specificity, parallel processing of multiple analytes, automation, compactness, and low sample/reagent volume requirements. In this article, we explore the various technologies in biochips market and their emerging roles in point-of-care testing, drug discovery, and personalized medicine.
Types of Biochips
Based on their application, biochips can be broadly categorized into:
DNA Microarrays: Also known as gene chips or genomic chips. They contain thousands of gene sequences immobilized as DNA probes to detect expression patterns of genes. Applications include gene expression profiling, cancer diagnostics, pharmacogenomics etc.
Protein Microarrays: Contain probes for proteins, antibodies or peptides printed on a solid surface. Used for profiling expression of proteins, analyzing protein-protein interactions, identifying biomarkers etc.
Tissue Microarrays: Comprise of arrayed tissue specimens that allow simultaneous analysis of genes or proteins in hundreds of tissue samples. Help in correlating molecular signatures with disease phenotypes.
Cell-based Assays Chips: Integrate living cells on a chip to test drug responses, cytotoxicity or cell signaling pathways. An emerging application is organ-on-chip microdevices.
Clinical Diagnostic Chips: Used near the point-of-care for rapid disease detection, infection screening and monitoring disease progression or treatment response. Examples include glucose monitoring chips, pathogen detection chips etc.
Applications of Biochips in Healthcare
Biochips have revolutionized point-of-care testing by enabling rapid, portable and easy-to-use diagnostics outside the traditional laboratory setting. Examples of point-of-care biochips include- glucose monitoring chips for diabetes management, influenza detection chips, HIV screening chips, pregnancy test chips and more. These provide accurate results within minutes instead of hours/days.
Integration of biochips with microfluidics and lab-on-a-chip technologies allows simultaneous molecular profiling of patients. This personalized molecular data helps physicians implement a more tailored therapeutic approach for each individual. DNA microarrays have become indispensable tools for pharmacogenomics and cancer diagnostics aiding personalized therapies.
Drug Discovery & Toxicology Screening
Biochips are finding increasing use in early phases of drug development for high-throughput screening of small molecule libraries, assessment of drug metabolism/toxicity and identification of biomarkers. They facilitate screening of thousands of drug candidates against protein or whole cell arrays in parallel, accelerating the drug discovery process.
Disease Profiling & Diagnostics
Molecular profiling using biochips can accurately diagnose diseases at genetic or protein level with high sensitivity. DNA microarrays are frequently employed for cancer sub-typing to select optimal treatment regimens. Protein microarrays enable detection of cancer biomarker signatures with potential for non-invasive cancer screening. Tissue microarrays have enabled large-scale correlative analysis of molecular and phenotypical disease characteristics.
Stem Cell Research & Regenerative Medicine
Biosensors and cell-based biochips aid in development of stem cell technologies by enabling isolation of rare stem cell populations, analyzing stem cell niche factors, monitoring differentiation, screening differentiation inducing agents and evaluating graft viability for regenerative therapies.
The global biochips market exhibits promising growth prospects and is expected to witness significant gains in the upcoming years. Rising demand for personalized medicine, point-of-care treatment monitoring, drug discovery and research applications will majorly drive the commercialization of biochips. North America currently dominates the market owing to extensive R&D investments and presence of leading technology players. However, Asia Pacific region is emerging as the new hotspot with China and India showing highest adoption rates supported by initiative towards development of indigenous technologies. Factors like growing healthcare infrastructure, increasing biotech investments and rising global disease burden will further boost the demand for biochips globally in the future across early disease diagnostics, biomarker identification and clinical trials for new therapies.