Such scenarios - such as lost or mislabeled patient identification on samples like blood tests - are common in hospitals and clinics in the developing world where clinical samples must travel long distances for analysis, with potentially deadly consequences. Now, William Grover, an assistant professor of bioengineering in UC Riverside’s Bourns College of Engineering, and a team of researchers has come up with a technology that uses microchips to embed patient data directly in biological samples - making it impossible to separate a sample from a patient's medical record.
The researchers included a technical team from PharmaSeq Inc., which originally developed the microtransponder chips - used in tagging, tracking and authentication of objects - used in the research. No larger than a flake of pepper, each chip has a unique serial number - linked to a patient's record in a database or paper file - that is read using a handheld chip reader.
During collection, a patient sample can be "salted" with these chips, says Grover, and the chips remain a permanent but inconspicuous and inert part of the sample.
At every step of the medical process the chip reader can add the sample's location and test results to the patient’s medical record. The chip doesn't compromise patient privacy because it contains only an identification number - not a patient's full information.
The use of such inexpensive microchips, say the researchers, will help healthcare providers in the developing world deliver more reliable care to their patients. The researchers developed the technology with support from a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Grand Challenges Explorations Grant.
Looking ahead, say the researchers, the funding will allow them to investigate the effects the chips have on the sample itself, and the effects the sample has on the chips. They will also determine if the chips will require special coatings or handling during tests.