A team in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering led
by Chris Backhouse has been awarded the Engineers Canada 2009 National
Award for an engineering project that developed "lab on a chip"
A decade ago Backhouse set out to develop a
portable, hand-held device with the technological horsepower of
million-dollar medical diagnostics lab.
"We put this capability
into instruments that we made progressively smaller and less
expensive," said Backhouse, whose research has been funded by the
Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and the
Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
"We had a $100,000
version, then a $10,000 version, and we now have a $1,000 package that
can perform a wide range of diagnostics, especially genetic ones," he
Backhouse has been developing the technology with
professors Duncan Elliott and Jim McMullin, combining microfluidics,
microelectronics, microphotonics and nanobiotechnologies. The team,
with its students and trainees, has worked closely with its medical
colleagues to develop new devices, blending different technologies into
compact and inexpensive instruments that may have a profound impact on
The devices could, for example, screen
travellers for infectious diseases, help determine the correct dosage
of medications or test the safety of drinking water.
"It's a wonderful
honour," Backhouse said. "The amount of engineering required in this
integration is immense and the recognition of this by the professional
engineering association is very satisfying."