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Home > Tech Reiews > Emerging Technology Report
Emerging Technology Report #48: March 20, 2003

Tokyo University Biochip Symposium

- Summary -

Global Emerging Technology Institute (GETI)

A very interesting symposium on biochip technology was held at the University of Tokyo (a.ka."TODAI") recently. The symposium entitled "Biochips Micro and Nanotechnology Will Have a Profound Impact on Medicine" was organized by TODAI faculty members in an attempt to disseminate recent research results in biomedical microsystems and nanotechnology to the general public. The symposium was held in the conference room at the University's Graduate School of Medicine and attracted many more attendees than the organizers initially anticipated (250), with over 450 people wishing to attend. Despite the crowd, most people attended the one-day symposium in its entirety. The enthusiasm and excitement was hardly a surprise if you look at the list of speakers. A total of 15 professors and associate professors from various departments at TODAI gave high-level overviews on their research activity relating to biochip technology research and development. Most of these research scientists usually give invited talks at regular technical conferences. Speakers at the symposium included Prof. Yoshiyuki Sakaki (Institute of Medical Science) who gave the keynote address; Profs. Takehiko Kitamori (Applied Chemistry) and Yasuhiro Horiike (Materials Engineering) who gave special lectures; Prof. Masao Washizu (Mechanical Engineering); Prof. Hiroyuki Fujita (Institute of Industrial Science, Electrical Engineering); Prof. Nobuhide Kasagi (Mechanical Engineering); and Prof. Isao Shimoyama (Information Science and Technology), among others.

Prof. Takehiko Kitamori has led the development of cutting-edge technology for integrating various chemical and biological processes onto a microchip in an attempt to enable breakthroughs in the process speed and efficiency as well as significant reduction in the sample and reagent amounts. Kitamori's group has established baseline technologies for the design and fabrication of microchemistry chips, for ultra high-sensitivity detection methods, and for the control of fluid flow in micro channels. The group uses a proprietary thermal lens microscopy (TLM) for detection. TLM makes the detection of non-fluorescent species possible. Kitamori's group has already developed about 60 types of micro analytical, bioassay, and combinatorial chemistry system prototypes in collaboration with medical groups and industrial partners. For example, a micro immunoassay chip system based on his group's work was able to detect a marker for cardiac infarction in 1/100 the time required for the conventional technique. Based on these accomplishments, Dr. Kitamori has been made responsible for a 5-year research project on micro chemistry chip technology development sponsored by the Japanese Government. In addition to leading technology development activity towards commercialization, Dr. Kitamori is now starting basic research in what he calls "nano-space chemistry" in order to better understand the behavior of liquid-phase clusters in the space of 10 to 100 nanometers. His group will build nanostructures in a micro space using both top-down fabrication and bottom-up self-assembly methods in an effort to discover new phenomena occurring in controlled, artificial nano-spaces.

Prof. Yasuhiro Horiike of the Department of Materials Engineering gave a special lecture on the development of healthcare chip technology. A healthcare chip is a microfabricated chip system that collects a very small amount of whole blood using a painless micro needle and measures specific amounts of health markers such as pH, Na+, K+, glucose, and creatinine in the blood using chemical sensors in order to make home diagnostics possible. Since such healthcare chips should be disposed of after use, the reduction of fabrication costs are carefully considered by research group in order to promote commercialization. The first-generation healthcare chip system used an electro-osmosis flow (EOF) pump in order to inject blood from the needle into a microcapillary and an ion sensitive field effect transistor (ISFET) is used to detect health markers. The group is now working on a second-generation chip system consisting of an inexpensive PET (polyethyleneterephthalate) substrate, carbon electrodes and an external pump that would serve as a cost-effective disposable solution. The micro needle is made of a 90 micron-diameter stainless tube whose tip is polished by chemical mechanical polishing and sharpened by electro-polishing. The blood injected into the capillary is centrifuged on-chip to separate blood serum, which is guided onto the carbon electrodes in order to measure pH and Na+ and K+ ion concentrations. The group has obtained satisfactory health marker measurement results from this research. In addition to the aforementioned healthcare chip, the group is working on several different types of microcapillary chips for biochemical analysis applications. Microchips under development include a liver function diagnosis chip for measuring λ-GTP (λ-glutamyltranspeptidase), GOT (glutamic oxaloacetic transaminase), and GPT (glutamic pyruvic transaminase); a cell sorter chip for sorting cells without damage in order to extract abnormal cells and identify the cause of diseases; and a electrophoresis chip for high-speed DNA separation. Because of the aging population in Japan, Horiike's group believes that the development of inexpensive and disposable healthcare and diagnostic microchips will greatly enhance health care services provided to older patients.

The TODAI Biochip Symposium provided great value to attendees by providing a series of substantive lectures by top-notch research scientists. In Japan, where technology transfer from university to industry has been formally promoted only recently starting in the late1990s, there are only a small number of university-based research consortia that are strongly backed by industrial members. In this context, the recent symposium was a unique attempt to reduce the distance between academia and industry interested in supporting and investing directly in emerging technology development. "TODAI promotes the creation and utilization of knowledge", quoted Dr. Nobuhide Kasagi in his closing remarks. In order to promote that creation of knowledge, TODAI places a special emphasis on the "fusion" of knowledge in different disciplines biology, materials science, chemistry, electrical engineering, and mechanical engineering, among other areas. In order to promote utilization and commercialization, TODAI will promote "partnerships" with industry and the general public. As the Japanese economy moves towards a more knowledge-based society where knowledge leads to value creation, TODAI and other Japanese universities will have to play a greater role in the production and dissemination of new knowledge as well as be responsible for the training of knowledge workers. Open thematic symposia are an efficient way to achieve these goals.

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