IBM scientists in Zurich have created a proof-of-concept device, that could change the way that human tissue samples are analyzed. Presently, samples must be stained with a biomarker solution in order to detect the presence of a disease. The staining process can be quite involved, however, plus it is subject to error - too much of the solution can cause inaccurate results, for instance. Additionally, it can sometimes be difficult to perform enough tests using the small amount of tissue extracted in most biopsies. The IBM technology, though it still involves staining, is said to offer a potential solution to these shortcomings.

The device itself is a diamond-shaped flexible silicon probe, which is eight millimeters wide at the middle. It incorporates two microfluidic channels at each tip. Guided by a microscope, the researchers are able to use one of those tips to apply minute amounts of biomarker solution - inkjet printer-style - onto micrometer-scale tissue samples. The probe continuously aspirates the liquid once it's been applied, to prevent overexposure caused by the solution accumulating on the tissue's surface.

Because the probe is able to stain such small areas, different areas of one biopsy could be used to perform multiple tests. Doing those multiple tests could, in turn, lead to more accurate results.

It is also said to be compatible with conventional pathology workflows and current biochemical staining systems, while remaining resistant to damage by a wide variety of commonly-used chemicals.

The probe could find its way into laboratory use within the next several months.

A paper on the IBM research was recently published in the journal Lab on a Chip.