University of Toronto
Researchers at the University of Toronto are pioneering an inexpensive and faster test to screen newborn babies for serious, yet treatable genetic diseases.
Newborns across Canada are screened for a variety of rare metabolic disorders that, if not detected early, can trigger catastrophic symptoms that can lead to permanent neurological damage, coma and death. Doctors take a small sample of blood by pricking the baby’s heel or taking blood from their vein, but processing these samples in the lab is manual, tedious and slow. To simplify the procedure, Dr. Aaron Wheeler, Canada Research Chair in Bioanalytical Chemistry, is developing an automated process using new lab-on-a-chip tools.
The technology, known as digital microfluidics, enables the manipulation of tiny droplets of fluid on a credit-card-sized substrate formed from glass, silicon, or paper (view a short video on Dr. Wheeler’s research) Dr. Wheeler’s team of chemists, biologists, physicists, engineers, and medical researchers is working to extend these techniques to screen mothers and newborns for infectious diseases (including congenital rubella syndrome) and inborn disorders (including fetal alcohol spectrum) in vulnerable populations in Vietnam and Canada, respectively.
Dr. Wheeler is one of Canada’s most prolific researchers in the field of microfluidics. His work has been featured in media stories from the CBC, Global News, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.
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