Tasks once performed by instruments that took up the space of an entire laboratory can now be accomplished on a device that fits into the palm of your hand. This article describes the advantages of miniaturizing laboratory instruments, as well as the challenges to adapt to and overcome.
This same drive to reduce the size of technology has certainly played a factor in laboratory and clinical diagnostic instrument design too, with the parallel development of "lab-on-a-chip" techniques, micro- and nano-scale chromatography systems, as well as a flurry of effort on enhanced professional "point of care" (PPOC) devices. This is understandable, given the tremendous benefits miniaturization offers. Even so, mingled with the advantages offered by reduced-size technology are a few limitations that should be considered by anyone making the move towards miniaturization of laboratory equipment.Key Benefits of Miniaturization
There are a number of key advantages that miniaturization offers users of analytical equipment. These are typically grouped into two main areas:
Portability: Miniaturization of analytical instrumentation makes it easier to move the analysis equipment from laboratory to laboratory, which reduces the risk of sample contamination or loss through mishandling.
From a life science perspective — and especially in PPOC applications — having more portable equipment allows analyses to be performed in critical care units and operating rooms, offering enhanced convenience for the patient with the added benefit of more "real-time" results. Miniaturization also allows these tests to be performed on-site during disaster relief efforts; in support of forensics testing; or in the face of bioterrorism and chemical warfare threats, which adds to the benefits of increased portability.2 For "lab-on-a-chip" techniques, ever-increasing complexity of chip design allows for more sophisticated analyses to be performed wherever the analyst desires. This coupled with the ability to fabricate these chips in a relatively short period of time add to the attractiveness of these miniaturized pieces of equipment.
Reduced Fluid Volumes: As instrumentation reduces in overall size, so do fluid volumes used in the analyses, which subsequently offers scientists several ancillary advantages: