Samuel K. Sia | Streamlining Blood Testing

Samuel K. Sia
Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering
This profile is included in the publication Excellentia, which features current research of Columbia Engineering faculty members.
Photo by Eileen Barroso

Doctors in developing countries will soon be able to use handheld devices to collect and analyze blood tests at a patient’s bedside to diagnose infectious and other diseases, thanks to research by Samuel K. Sia.

The devices, now undergoing field tests in Rwanda, require only a finger prick of blood and provide quantitative results in less than 20 minutes. The aim of the new technology is to significantly reduce the time between testing patients and treating them, without increasing costs or regulatory burdens.

“Nowhere is the need for new diagnostic technologies greater than in developing countries, where people suffer disproportionately from infectious disease compared to the U.S. and Europe,” said Sia.

The “lab-on-a-chip” technology uses microfluidics—the manipulation of small amounts of fluids—to miniaturize and automate routine laboratory tests onto a handheld microchip. The devices are being developed in a collaboration between Sia’s lab and Claros Diagnostics Inc.—a venture capital-backed startup company that Sia co-founded in 2004—as well as with the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Sia’s work also focuses on developing new high-resolution tools to control the extracellular environments around cells, in order to study how they interact to form human tissues and organs. His lab uses techniques from a number of different fields, including biochemistry, molecular biology, microfabrication, microfluidics, materials chemistry, and cell and tissue biology.

His device, known as mChip (mobile microfluidic chip), significantly reduces the time between testing patients and treating them and provides medical workers in the field results that are much easier to read at a much lower cost. The microchip inside the device is formed through injection molding and holds miniature forms of test tubes and chemicals; the cost of the chip is about $1 and the entire instrument about $100. Sia’s research has recently been featured in Popular Science and Nature Medicine.

In August of 2010, MIT’s Technology Review magazine named Sia to its prestigious listing of the World’s Top Young Innovators for 2010 for his groundbreaking work in biotechnology and medicine.

Sia received a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation that supports his work in developing biocompatible microelectromechanical systems and implantable medical devices, such as glucose sensors. A recipient of the Walter H. Coulter Early Career Award in 2008, Sia participated in the National Academy of Engineering’s U.S. Frontiers of Engineering symposium for the nation’s brightest young engineers in 2007.

B.Sc., University of Alberta (Canada), 1997; Ph.D., Harvard, 2002

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