Self-powered lab-on-a-chip revolutionizes blood tests with AI and nanogenerator technology

(Nanowerk Spotlight) The human body is an intricate network of electrical signals, with every cell, tissue, and organ relying on precise electrical communication to function properly. At the heart of this complex system is blood, the life-sustaining fluid that transports nutrients, oxygen, and crucial signaling molecules throughout the body. For centuries, medical professionals have sought to unravel the secrets of blood, recognizing its immense potential as a diagnostic tool. However, measuring the electrical properties of blood, particularly its conductivity, has proven to be a formidable challenge.
Blood electrical conductivity, a measure of how easily electric current flows through blood, is influenced by a myriad of factors, including the concentration of electrolytes like sodium and chloride ions, as well as the presence of proteins and other molecules. Abnormalities in blood conductivity can signal a wide range of health issues, from dehydration and electrolyte imbalances to more severe conditions like kidney disease and heart failure.
Despite the diagnostic value of this parameter, traditional methods for measuring blood conductivity, such as four-electrode conductivity measurement and bioimpedance analysis, have been hindered by technical limitations and practical constraints.
Conventional techniques for assessing blood conductivity often rely on bulky laboratory equipment or complex microprocessor-based devices, limiting their applicability in point-of-care settings. These methods typically involve small blood sample extraction procedures, which can be uncomfortable for patients and time-consuming for healthcare providers.
Moreover, the need for precise electrode placement and the potential interference from ambient electrical signals can compromise the accuracy of these measurements. As a result, there has been a pressing need for innovative, portable, and minimally invasive solutions that can overcome these barriers.
Recent advancements in nanotechnology and millifluidics have opened new avenues for developing lab-on-a-chip devices that can address these challenges. These miniaturized systems integrate multiple laboratory functions onto a single chip, enabling rapid, cost-effective, and automated analysis of biological samples. By leveraging the power of self-powered nanogenerators and artificial intelligence, researchers are now poised to revolutionize the field of blood conductivity measurement.
In a groundbreaking study published in the journal Advanced Materials ("Millifluidic Nanogenerator Lab-on-a-Chip Device for Blood Electrical Conductivity Monitoring at Low Frequency"), a team of researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and New Mexico State University introduced a novel millifluidic lab-on-a-chip device capable of measuring blood electrical conductivity at low frequencies. This innovative device harnesses the power of a triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG), a technology that converts mechanical energy into electricity through the phenomenon of triboelectrification.
self-powered, millifluidic lab-on-a-chip device to determine blood conductivity
Vision of the proposed research for developing a self-powered, millifluidic lab-on-a-chip device to determine blood conductivity. a) Schematics and dimensions of the proposed device. The blood layer, copper electrodes, PTFE disc, and PMMA elements form a contact-separation mode TENG system. The blood sample is sandwiched between two PMMA layers and serves as one of the conductive layers. Any change in its electrical conductivity would theoretically change the voltage signal generated by the device. (Image: Adapted from DOI:10.1002/adma.202403568, CC BY)
The proposed device is the first of its kind to utilize blood as a conductive substance within its integrated TENG system. By analyzing the voltage generated by the blood-based TENG under predefined loading conditions, the researchers were able to determine the electrical conductivity of blood samples. The self-powering mechanism of the device eliminates the need for complex embedded electronics and external electrodes, enabling miniaturization and portability.
To evaluate the efficacy of their approach, the research team conducted experiments using simulated body fluid (SBF) and human blood plasma. They observed that the voltage generated by the device varied with changes in the concentrations of key electrolytes, such as sodium chloride (NaCl), and glucose (Glc). These findings suggest that the device can detect variations in blood conductivity related to alterations in electrolyte levels, which are often associated with various pathological conditions.
One of the most remarkable aspects of this study is the integration of advanced artificial intelligence (AI) techniques, such as gene expression programming, to analyze the voltage patterns generated by the device. The researchers developed sophisticated AI algorithms capable of estimating blood electrical conductivity based solely on the device-generated voltage. These models demonstrated high accuracy in predicting conductivity, highlighting the potential for real-time, minimally invasive assessment of blood properties.
The 3D-printed, disposable design of the millifluidic lab-on-a-chip device further enhances its portability and usability, making it an attractive option for point-of-care applications. By eliminating the need for complex instrumentation and skilled operators, this technology could enable rapid, on-site blood conductivity monitoring in a variety of settings, from clinical laboratories to remote healthcare facilities.
Beyond its diagnostic potential, the ability to measure blood conductivity at low frequencies holds significant implications for understanding fundamental biological processes and advancing medical technologies. Low-frequency measurements can provide insights into the electrical behavior of blood at the cellular and molecular levels, shedding light on diverse physiological mechanisms. This knowledge could pave the way for new therapeutic strategies and personalized medicine approaches.
For instance, the proposed device could potentially complement innovative medical treatments that utilize electrical fields, such as electrocardiography (ECG) for monitoring heart activity and functional electrical stimulation (FES) for muscle stimulation in therapeutic applications.
While the proposed millifluidic lab-on-a-chip device represents a major step forward in blood conductivity measurement, the researchers acknowledge that further validation and optimization are necessary before clinical implementation. Future studies should focus on expanding the database of blood samples to refine the AI models and ensure robust performance across a wide range of physiological conditions.
The development of this self-powered, millifluidic lab-on-a-chip device for measuring blood electrical conductivity at low frequencies marks a significant milestone in the quest for accessible, accurate, and minimally invasive diagnostic tools. By leveraging the synergy between nanotechnology, microfluidics, and artificial intelligence, this innovative approach has the potential to transform the landscape of point-of-care testing and personalized medicine.
Michael Berger By – Michael is author of three books by the Royal Society of Chemistry:
Nano-Society: Pushing the Boundaries of Technology,
Nanotechnology: The Future is Tiny, and
Nanoengineering: The Skills and Tools Making Technology Invisible
Copyright © Nanowerk LLC

Become a Spotlight guest author! Join our large and growing group of guest contributors. Have you just published a scientific paper or have other exciting developments to share with the nanotechnology community? Here is how to publish on