The EU funded Optolab Card project
is developing and mass producing a miniaturised optical
laboratory on a card, allowing bacterial infectious
diseases to be diagnosed in just 15 minutes. The
new device is expected to reach the market in six
The impact and spread of new pathogens is growing dramatically due to the increase
in worldwide human mobility, in combination with trade in livestock, and food
products. By the time the conventional tests have been completed (between 6
and 48 hours) an entire community or a large part of a population may have
been exposed to the pathogen in question.
Optolab Card participants hope to apply advances in micro electronic mechanical
systems (MEMS) to this field. Although the last decade witnessed incredible
developments in microfabrication processes, few of these have been transferred
successfully into real biological applications because of the difficulty of
reliable mass-production. Consequently, the availability of rapid diagnostic
devices remains very scarce.
Optolab Card is a specific targeted research project (STREP) supported with
3.2 million euro under a joint call of the information society technologies
(IST) and the nanotechnologies and nano-sciences (NMP) priorities of the Sixth
Framework Program (FP6).
Led by the Spanish Technological Research Centre Ikerlan, the consortium spans
research centres and companies from Germany, Austria, Sweden, Denmark and Poland.
The project, launched last summer, will last for three years, but it will take
almost twice as long to get the new device onto the market.
The instrument consists of a hand held base unit and a small disposable cartridge,
or labcard, which automatically carries out a retro transcriptase polymerase
chain reaction, from sample preparation to an optical detection. The labcard,
made of a light sensitive material used in processes such as photolithography
and photoengraving, contains all the disposable components, while the base
unit incorporates all the electronics and optics.
The optical laboratory will initially be designed to detect salmonella, the
pathogen with the highest incidence rate in the EU (40.7 people out of every
100,000 inhabitants). However, the diagnosis capability of the new device is
very varied as it will be capable of detecting and distinguishing different
DNA chains and could be, therefore, adapted to detect other infectious diseases
like flu, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and HIV/AIDS.
The great advantage of the Optolab Card is that it is the first system designed
to provide, in just 15 minutes, a reliable diagnosis of an infectious disease.
The card could also improve the quality of health care systems, as it is expected
to reduce hospital admissions, the time spent in hospital and the costs relating
to diagnosis. In addition, the application of the device will have an impact
on the reduction of infectious diseases, which will provide governments with
an approved tool which can be used for research into the possible sources of
Future applications of the laboratory card may include devices for genetic
diagnosis of degenerative or genetic disorders, paternity tests, forensic medicine
and environmental monitoring.
For further information (in Spanish),