In a study appearing in the June 15 issue of Sensors and Actuators, researchers used a microchip to electrically determine cell viability by detecting changes in the electrical resistance of a cell membrane within milliseconds after it is exposed to a toxic agent. They found that after a cell is exposed to a toxin, its electrical resistance experiences a quick spike before dropping dramatically when it dies.
"The beauty of the device is that it detects the viability of a cell directly and instantaneously," said Boris Rubinsky, professor of mechanical engineering and bioengineering at UC Berkeley and co-author of the study, which is now available online. "This MEMS (micro-electromechanical) device will be invaluable in the detection of a biochemical attack because there you don't have the luxury of time and analysis. It's a new technology that will act like a canary on a chip."
The study is a continuation of the bionic chip research, part of UC Berkeley's Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society, pioneered by Rubinsky and his former graduate student, Yong Huang, who received his PhD in mechanical engineering in 2001.
Three years ago, Rubinsky and Huang invented a chip that merges a living biological cell with electronic circuitry. The bionic chip also exemplifies the type of advances made possible through the campus's Health Sciences Initiative, which combines research in diverse disciplines to launch innovations in health-related fields. The chip has since been patented by UC Berkeley and exclusively licensed to Excellin Life Sciences, a Milpitas-based biotech startup.