A massive part of the costs in healthcare—both in development of pharmaceuticals and in lab tests—is spent on the tedious of work of manually moving around small amounts of liquid. According to Udayan Umapathi, a single blood test in the United States costs an average of $1,500. A biologist in a lab will spend 30–50% of their time simply moving liquids, and will go through a massive amount of disposable lab equipment in the process.
Umapathi and his team believe they can dramatically improve that process with a lab-on-a-chip that can programmatically move tiny droplets of liquids. This chip is a printed circuit board (PCB) with an array of small metallic plates that can be charged or discharged individually. When a droplet of liquid is resting on the board, that charging/discharging can precisely move it using the principle of electrowetting.
The entire board has a liquid-repellent coating, so it can be reused between tests without contaminating the samples. Scientists doing lab work can place multiple droplets on the board, and then merge and mix them in a precise—and repeatable—predetermined matter. The system would save a great deal of money on labor, as well as lab supplies, and could dramatically reduce the costs of many types of lab work.