Reducing reagent consumption and laborious lab protocols are attributes that labs look for in analytical instrumentation in order to improve their efficiency and productivity. Lab-on-a-chip, or microfluidics, technology is one of the many avenues instrument manufacturers are exploring to provide turnkey solutions that require only microliters of reagents.

One of the most successful commercial applications of microfluidic technologies is electrophoresis. These systems have become a common analytical tool for molecular chemists and biochemists and have replaced slab gel electrophoresis for many applications, including the measurement of RNA and DNA sample quality, DNA fragment analysis and SDS-PAGE analysis of proteins.

The lab-on-a-chip market is primarily driven by basic research applications. Academic facilities and government research programs account for the majority of demand. However, the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries have also adopted lab-on-a-chip technology.

Caliper Life Sciences pioneered the lab-on-a-chip technology and offers several products under the LabChip brand name. The LabChip 90 is a floor standing system that automates gel electrophoresis onto a microfluidic chip. Caliper also offers the LabChip 3000 drug discovery system, which is used for enzymatic and cell-based screening, including kinase profiling. In September 2006, Caliper launched the Desktop Profiler for kinase analysis. Using sipper chips, the Desktop Profiler allows automated sampling from microplates and employs a combination of pressure and voltage to move the sample in the microfluidic chip.

While Caliper has had success in the market, its partnership with Agilent and the introduction of the 2100 Bioanalyzer is what moved lab-on-a-chip technology into the mainstream. Using Caliper’s LabChip technology, Agilent’s 2100 Bioanalyzer analyzes up to 12 samples in about half an hour. The Agilent 2100 bioanalyzer includes support for on-chip flow cytometry, 21CFR part 11 compliance and electrophoresis assays. Agilent also offers the entry-level 2100 Electrophoresis Bioanalyzer system. Agilent recently introduced the Series II kits that improve various aspects of kit usage including sizing range and performance specifications.

Bio-Rad offers the Experion automated electrophoresis system. The Experion marries Bio-Rad’s leadership in electrophoresis and Caliper’s LabChip technology to provide rapid, and reproducible separation and analysis of protein and nucleic acid samples.

The total market for lab-on-a-chip systems and related consumables is expected to surpass $50 million this year and post double-digit growth over the next few years. While nucleic acid analysis accounts for a large segment of the demand, other applications such as protein and cell research, and kinase analysis in drug discovery and will fuel future growth.

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