The smallest laboratory in the world: MRSA quick test via lab-on-a-chip technology

Interview with Norbert Kaspers, DNE microtechnology

MRSA poses a major problem for hospitals. A diagnosis is often very time-consuming with outside laboratories needing to be involved while infections endanger patients in the meantime. Microfluidics could provide assistance with their lab-on-a-chip systems. In a quick diagnostic test, MRSA and other pathogens are being detected.


Photo: Norbert Kaspers; © DNE microtechnology

Norbert Kaspers; © DNE microtechnology

The "bactoquick" lab-on-a-chip test is one of the systems with which MRSA can be detected within only one hour. The DNE microtechnology company participated in its development and introduced the prototype at COMPAMED 2015. In this interview, Norbert Kaspers explains how microfluidic components work together in this case.

Mr. Kaspers, how does the MRSA quick test with bactoquick work in practice?

Kaspers: Approximately 25 percent of high-risk patients in Germany carry the MRSA virus. Nosocomial infections mainly occur in hospitals. In the Netherlands, the percentage is only three percent. Every patient who is admitted into a hospital there is immediately tested for MRSA. In Germany, patients are only tested if there is a high index of suspicion for MRSA. Subsequently, the time the lab test requires is a huge problem because test samples are often sent out to outside laboratories.

In the future, bactoquick can make it possible to test patients right when they are admitted on site. This requires a nasal swab. The sample is directly inserted into the lab-on-a-chip and placed in the analysis system. It then takes approximately one hour to detect whether MRSA is present or not. The advantage is that the patient can be immediately isolated and treated accordingly if the test is positive.
Photo: Lab-on-a-chip system

The lab-on-a-chip system integrates one or several laboratory functions on a single chip of only millimeters to a few square centimeters to achieve automation and high-throughput screening; © DNE microtechnology

Microfluidic components are an essential part of lab-on-a-chip systems. In the case of bactoquick, this element was developed by DNE microtechnology. How is this system set up?

Kaspers: Ultimately, we need to recreate what happens in a laboratory: the test sample is directly inserted into the device. Integrated plungers make it possible to move the liquid from the dipstick into a lysis chamber. This chamber is heated to 92 degrees so the cells burst. After this occurred, the processed sample is moved on further into the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) chamber. PCR serves to amplify DNA. The applicable reagents are already freeze-dried in this chamber which then dissolve upon contact. This is followed by 30-40 cycles to amplify enough DNA that can be analyzed. The processed sample subsequently enters the sensory chamber which already contains DNA catcher molecules. When the PCR sample flows into it, the DNA in question attaches to the catcher molecules. Everything else is flushed away. Fluorescent dyes assist in making the sought-after DNA molecules visible if they are present.

Could bactoquick also detect other types of bacteria?

Kaspers: The plastic part, that being the microfluidic chip, essentially always stays the same. However, other reagents and catcher molecules are needed. Consequently, every cell could be detected because the basic principle is to amplify the respective DNA of the sought-after cell. The system could also easily be converted to the HPV, Hepatitis-E or Ebola virus and be implemented both in terms of time and organization in the hospital.

Photo: batoquick/ doctor takes saliva sample from a woman

The saliva sample is introduced in the device and analyzed within one hour; © DNE microtechnology/

What are the future trends for microfluidics in the area of medical technology?

Kaspers: One major problem of lab-on-a-chip systems is definitely the cost. Laboratory tests are cost-efficient. Even complex tests can be conducted here. The advantage of point-of-care testing is that it directly occurs with the patient. However, only a limited amount of chemical reactions or reagents can be stored on the test strips. Laboratory tests currently make up 80 billion Euros annually, point-of-care testing approximately 10 billion and lab-on-a-chip systems 200 million. The latter increase very quickly at an average of 30 percent each year. That’s why lab-on-a-chip tests first need to be made affordable. We are working on this at DNE.

The current technological advancements in lab-on-a-chip systems take place in the biochemistry field. The next big project is definitely early cancer detection from a single drop of blood. Based on this blood test alone, you could then already assess whether this is lung cancer or another type of cancer. If this turns out to be a good test, I could envision repeating this test at regular intervals to detect early on whether cancer develops.

When will bactoquick be available on the market?

Kaspers: Three companies are working on this device: the hgTECC Company, the University of Applied Sciences of Bremerhaven ("Hochschule Bremerhaven") and DNE microtechnology. The University of Applied Sciences of Bremerhaven is currently working on relevant biochemical processes. HgTECC is developing an analysis system and we at DNE need to advance the lab-on-a-chip system to a size that can be cost-efficiently produced.

During COMPAMED 2015, we networked with approximately 20 promising prospects who showed interest in bactoquick. Some good and important prospects have crystallized as a result, which we will visit over the next two to three weeks. The prospects would be the right companies to bring the product to the market.

Photo: Melanie Günther; Copyright: B. Frommann

© B. Frommann

The interview was conducted by Melanie Günther and translated by Elena O'Meara.