A team of scientists in the United States are developing a bio-chip that is called the ImmunoSensor, a 2-millimetre chip that will be used to identify specific diseases. These scientists are University of California-Berkeley molecular and cell biology professor P. Robert Beatty, public health professor Eva Harris, and electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) professor Bernhard Boser.
This biochip can find a disease very quickly and download the information into a laptop computer. "We are not reinventing diagnostics, but we’re making them faster, cheaper, and easier," stated Beatty.
The process is becoming faster as time goes on. To begin with, a drop of blood or serum is placed onto a micro-scale well that is located on the chip. After this, the blood or serum comes into contact with a series of tiny sensors that are coated with a viral protein or whatever the specific antigen is that indicates the disease in question.
If there are disease-specific antibodies present, then they will attach themselves to the disease antigen and any of the thousands of magnetic beads. Then a magnetic field will be applied causing the beads that are NOT attached to an antigen to be pulled away from the group. This process is called magnetic washing. Sensors then verify if there is a presence of the magnetic field in the remaining beads, thus bringing out those that are carrying a disease.
Beatty has stated that the project’s success is due to the large amount of co-operation between various entities and departments. In the United States and Korea, scientists have currently developed a biochip that can be used to check what a person’s blood group is just by looking at the monitor.
Tai Hun Kwon from the Pohang University of Science and Technology led the team that invented the prototype of this biochip. He says, "It only takes three minutes to identify the blood group of a sample." The whole idea is to make these bio-chips available for mass production at very low cost.
Dan Schabacker, who is the team leader of the biochip group at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois, has helped develop the biochip technology system. "In the last two years we’ve transitioned from basic research to mainly development of assays."
This biochip system is able to detect disease in any time between two hours to 15 minutes, depending on what is being tested. According to Schabacker, each biochip has hundreds of thousands of gel drops, and each one of them is about 100 microns – which is about the diameter of a human hair. "The array of gel drops can be tailored to specific strains of infectious diseases or other biological organisms. Each drop can detect trace quantities of the agents for which they are specific."
The bio-chips are being tested for many different uses, including identifying biological warfare agents, rapid diagnostic testing to detect cancer, verify vaccines and therapeutic targets. The various licensees are working on a program to deploy these bio-chips to the public in the near future.
At the DNA Chip Facility, they have built and developed a robot called the "OmniGrid spotting robot" that can produce 100 DNA chips at the same time. This Chip Facility also has its own specific research projects in the field of health medicine. The University of Ulm and the Chip Facility are working together to produce chips that detect difficult types of cancerous tumours, differentiating them from each other. Professor Thomas Gress is heading a team that is developing a diagnostic chip that is able to differentiate in almost 100% of cases, between inflammatory and malignant tumours of the pancreas.
The researchers at Argonne and scientists in Russia have stated that these biochips can identify mutant Tuberculosis bacteria as well. This is accomplished by testing strains categorized using usual methods employed by scientists. Statistics published by the World Health Organization state that TB kills more people today than any other existing infectious disease. Thus, a biochip that detects different strains of TB is a very valuable discovery.
Now, where does all this amazing technology leave us? Our readers are well aware of the MICHAEL Journal’s opinion on these technologies. Although there are many possibilities that could benefit the future of the human person, we can see that today it is not being used for this purpose.
Now we will study the new genetic "enhancement" techniques being developed in the field of biomedicine. Scientists are developing a gene therapy that increases levels of enzymes and they have as a consequence developed a new breed of mice that have super physical abilities. They do this by genetically altering the gene that affects the metabolism. This gives the mice an above-average capacity for running faster and longer than "normal" mice can do. "They are metabolically similar to Lance Armstrong biking up the Pyrenees," said Richard W. Hanson, Ph.D., who led the research at the Case Western University.
The question of applying these techniques to humans has of course been in the mainstream media and the topic of many discussions between modern scientists.
"We’re in an era when breakthroughs in biology and intelligence are outpacing the culture’s capacity to deal with the ethics. There will be issues of access and who can afford it and whether the social wealthy class will have the intellectual advantage over poor people." said Joe Tsien, Ph.D. from Princeton University.
Lee Silver, who is a molecular biologist from Princeton University, has written some disturbing works on the subject of a "higher" class of individuals who would dominate over the "lower" class. These "higher" class people would be enhanced with specific synthetic genes that would permit them to do things at a more advanced level than the "lower" or normal class of people.
The use of biotechnologies has thus become morally questionable and very dangerous. Through the manipulation of the ethics of human life, our world leaders are putting human "liberties" over the moral guidelines given us by the Creator Himself.
Pope Benedict XVI has recently stated his concerns about biotechnologies and we of the MICHAEL Journal share his preoccupation about these matters. On speaking about the value of human life over science, he said: "In our time ... the way of conceiving man is more and more placed in the hands of man himself by modern biotechnology.
"The solutions to the current problems of humanity cannot be merely technical, but must take account of all the needs of the person, who is endowed with soul and body, and must thus take the Creator, God, into consideration. These technologies, are the ‘fruit of a materialistic and mechanistic understanding of human life’ that reduces love without truth to ‘an empty shell, filled in an arbitrary way.’"