A lab no bigger than a postage stamp could offer a promising tool for the development of important anti-clotting drugs.

Anti-clotting medications are prescribed to people at a high risk of getting clots, designed to reduce their chances of developing conditions related to blood clots, such as strokes and heart attacks.

Currently, the effectiveness of anti-clotting medication can be limited due to the risk of unwanted side effects, meaning that alternative drugs are needed. However, drug discovery and development can be time-consuming and labour-intensive.

To remedy this, biochemists and engineers at the RMIT University and the Haematology Micro-platforms group at the Australian Centre for Blood Diseases (ACBD) in Melbourne, Australia, have developed a system to speed up the process.

Researchers have “shrunk” a medical pathology lab to fit onto a small chip, meaning that chemical compounds can be tested through automated processes to see how effective they are at preventing clotting.

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The microlab can screen hundreds of drug compounds in just a few hours, revealing their effect on blood clotting and identifying those that have the most potential for clinical use.

How lab on a chip works

The chip contains channels, valves, processors and pumps that are used to mix drug compounds with blood to test their efficacy. This can be used to better understand clotting mechanisms and develop new anti-clotting drugs.

Researchers used the technology to test how platelets, the component of blood that forms clots, respond to different chemical combinations. They tested how select small molecule inhibitors affects how the platelets clump together.

The results demonstrated that the automated lab-on-chip could accurately control blood flow, deliver and mix drug compounds with blood in seconds and send the blood to an assay system.

The chips, as well as being scalable and cheap to produce, tests chemical combinations far quicker than a traditional lab, carrying out what would take days in a few minutes.

Dr Warwick Nesbitt, a vice-chancellor’s senior research fellow at RMIT and group leader at ACBD, explains that previous microdevices such as this have not always been suitable for testing on blood:

“Blood is extremely sensitive to artificial surfaces and clots very easily, so blood-handling technologies must be equally sensitive.

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“We’ve combined a deep understanding of the biology of blood with precision microfabrication engineering and design, to deliver a device that can work with whole blood and produce reliable results.

“We hope this powerful new tool will give researchers an edge in delivering better and safer anti-clotting treatments, to improve the health and wellbeing of millions around the world.”


Read more: Celgene partners with AI drug discovery startup to make drug trials shorter.