Using cheap components and few moving parts, Samuel Sia, an assistant professor at Columbia University, has helped create a microfluidic chip that tests blood samples for multiple diseases and is practical for use in poor countries. The chips cost pennies instead of dollars to make, and the results are read with a small battery-powered device.
Inventing the technology was just one step: Sia has given equal emphasis to getting it used. He and his partners wanted to develop microfluidics for use in poor countries, but they realized they would have trouble finding funding for such a venture. So in 2004 they founded a company, Claros Diagnostics, to create a prostate-cancer monitor for use in the United States and Europe. They received $7.8 million in venture funding in 2007, and marketing approval was granted in Europe in June of this year (see To Market, p. 21). While Sia’s partners worked full time on that device, Sia modified the technology to create a test for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, syphilis, and hepatitis.
Intending the test for use in Africa, he then orchestrated a number of field trials in collaboration with Columbia’s school of public health and the Rwandan government. His efforts have progressed further than many other attempts to deploy new medical technologies in the developing world, but he still faces the hurdle of finding funding to commercialize the chip. “There are mechanisms to get money to develop new technology,” he says. “But getting funding to implement it [on a broad scale] is very difficult.”–Emily Singer