Microfluidics in healthcare: Inkjet technology at microscale

As different as the medical landscape may look from Tokyo to Toledo to Toronto, all regions are grappling with the challenge of mounting healthcare demands and rising costs.  Global healthcare spending is projected to reach $8.7 trillion annually by 2020, reflecting both the expansion of services in developed regions and increased spending in emerging countries.

Technology is at the heart of the solution to meeting high demand and escalating costs. What could be a more vital driver of innovation?  In healthcare and every other industry, we’re seeing technology breakthroughs, inventions and categories that have never existed.  These new technologies in combination have a multiplier effect that makes this moment unlike any other in human history. It’s not just what we’re capable of imagining – it’s what’s we are capable of building that’s rocketing forward.

Still, we build this “giant leap” future brick by brick, and microfluidics is a high-potential building block in this rapidly unfolding new era in healthcare.

As healthcare demands escalate worldwide, the technology industry is constantly in pursuit of new ways to support health care providers, empower patients, optimize clinical workflows and improve outcomes. To a great extent, the convergence of IT and medicine and the advances we’re seeing are fueled by the powerful combination of microelectronics, microfluidics, distributed networks, and data analytics.  Microfluidics is an especially interesting arena for HP, where we can apply microfluidics manufacturing capabilities, intellectual property, cost structure and scale to make these technologies more widely available for non-print testing & diagnostics purposes.

Newly accessible, microfluidics-based diagnostic tools can have powerful clinical point-of-care (POC) applications. Healthcare providers can bring portable, affordable diagnostic tools into clinical and field settings to diagnose (and more effectively treat and prevent) infectious diseases including malaria, sepsis and AIDS/HIV.

Using microfluidics we can create miniaturized testing solutions by adding micro-scale sensors, precision programmable fluidics and embedded electronic systems to the microfluidic chip. This should enable delivery of diagnostics at the point-of-care or even in-home, reducing test result time from days to minutes, and reducing total healthcare costs by 100x or more. Clinically relevant data will be collected and processed on-site to provide immediate insight into a patient’s health condition.  Microfluidics applications have been referred to as “lab on a chip” for their profound efficiency at performing standard lab operations, tools and processes miniaturized to a fingernail-size area.

Microfluidics is just one part of a burgeoning digital health field, and we are seeing advancements across a range of technology areas with the potential to have a transformative impact on our global healthcare challenges. The integration of information technology and biology is driving consumerization of healthcare applications and an emerging wellness testing segment. Advances in genomics are lower the cost and helping to leverage computing to quality and personalize medicine. A near future is just around the corner where CRISPR genome editing enables us to cure disease at a genetic level. Where a display just under our skin monitors our heart rate and alerts us to changes. And where, yes, a vaccine against cancer has entered human clinical trials. We are now able to order a kit to test our personal biome (e.g. companies such as uBiome) and understand what foods are optimal for our individual bodies.

Microfluidics is a game-changing element in this forward technological progress. Health information consolidation, big data analytics, and machine learning in the cloud will allow microfluidics innovation to deliver not only individual benefits but new insights into the population and global human health. The potential to realize this vision at scale is diagnostic medicine, democratized. This is a world in which biochemical testing and diagnosis are faster, affordable, and more accessible. This allows for more prevention and early treatment– better care and better outcomes. Better testing and diagnosis means more empowered and informed patients—more people around the world living longer, healthier lives.

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