A lab in your bathroom – inside Bisu’s microfluidic technology 

Bisu Body Coach sitting on bathroom shelf surrounded by toiletries
Key points
  • Bisu Body Coach uses a special technology called microfluidics or “lab-on-a-chip”
  • Microfluidics enable chemical reactions to be done at small scale accurately and with low power consumption
    • It’s a bit like a computer microchip, but inside is flowing liquid, not electricity
    • Very little sample is required because reactions happen inside tiny channels in the chip
    • Steps that would require a lab technician can be automated as part of an integrated system
  • Microfluidics as a research field has existed for almost 30 years
    • However, very few microfluidic chips have actually become products 
    • Most are too expensive and complex to escape the lab environment
    • Most test blood, which is hard to extract many data from in a reliable way (see Theranos!) 
  • Bisu is bringing microfluidics to the masses
    • We focus on making user friendly products, not technology for its own sake
    • Our microfluidic chips are sophisticated yet simple and easy to mass produce
    • We test urine, which is readily available and requires no special preparation 
  • Conventional urine test strips were invented in 1956 and have barely changed since
    • The main innovation has been to make these strips scannable with a smartphone
    • However, they still have problems with accuracy, are messy to use, and have limited data
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Microfluidics is a technology used to create “lab-on-a-chip” devices

Microfluidics refers to technologies whereby a fluid is manipulated inside tiny channels (using pumps, valves and/or capillary forces) in order to perform a chemical or biological process of some kind. If you’ve ever used an inkjet printer, you’ve used a microfluidic device. Inkjet printers recreate digital images by spraying tiny droplets of ink onto paper in a controlled fashion. Ink is sucked through tiny channels from separate red, blue and yellow cartridges, mixed to produce the desired color shade, and then pushed outside. All you can see is the printed image slowly appearing – but a lot is going on under the cover.  

Microfluidics is also used in healthcare, where the sample is not printer ink, but blood, saliva, urine, DNA or cells. It is used for numerous applications including DNA analysis, separation and manipulation of cells, studying antibiotic drug-resistant bacteria, transporting nanoparticles in blood, and detecting cancers and pathogens. These processes are performed using microfluidic chips made out of silicon, glass, plastic and even paper. Because these chips make it possible to automate and/or simplify processes that normally require manual steps by a lab technician, they are often referred to as a “lab-on-a-chip“. Sometimes the sample (e.g. blood) is applied manually to the chip using a pipette. At other times, the chip is part of a larger system with pumps, valves and reagent containers – an integrated microfluidic device. 
The benefits of microfluidics are:
  • Very little sample required: More biomarkers testable from same sample, cleaner and faster process
  • Enclosed chip structure: Can perform wide range of tests on same sample using different chemicals
  • Ability to automate reactions: Lower test cost, can be used reliably by a non-expert operator
  • High accuracy: A tightly controlled environment that makes measurements stable and sensitive

 

Hand holding a lab on chip microfluidic device

Easy to make prototypes, hard to make products

As a field of technology and research, microfluidics has existed for around 30 years. However, other than inkjet printers, there are few microfluidic devices which are actually used in the home today. There are several reasons for this. One is that many researchers are focused on testing novel disease biomarkers which require supporting machinery that is too complex and expensive for at-home use. Another is that the samples required, such as blood or DNA, cannot be easily collected and tested at home. The fall of Theranos, which promised to test 100 biomarkers from a single drop of blood, is a vivid illustration of these two issues. The other two issues are cost and ease of manufacturing. Traditionally, many microfluidic chips have been made from silicon or glass, which typically cost $100 or more when labor cost is included. More recently, some have used 3D printing to make microfluidic chips, but this is more suited to prototyping than high-speed manufacturing. 
Another reason why there are few if any at-home health tracking devices that use microfluidics is that the traditional approach to devices is (i) to test blood; and (ii) focus on diagnostics (detection) rather than wellness (lifestyle change and prevention). This makes the technical, regulatory and cost bars very high for bringing new products to market. By focusing on urine testing for wellness, it’s possible to lower these barriers.

What’s special about Bisu’s technology?

Bisu brings a practical, product-focused approach to the field of microfluidics. We’ve developed a microfluidic device that is sophisticated yet simple, easy and affordable to manufacture. This is possible because:
  • Easy-to-use sample: Unlike blood, urine is naturally available at home with enough volume to test many biomarkers simultaneously, and requires no special sample preparation
  • Deep, practical experience: Our CTO Wojciech has a PhD in microfluidics with over 20 years of experience developing devices for real-world applications – not just research publications
  • Product-focused: We focus not on technology for its own sake, but technology that enables the best product. Our microfluidic chip is a clever hybrid that enables high precision with low cost
  • Design-driven: We develop our technology within the parameters of a user-friendly, beautiful design
Bisu Body Coach with hand placing test stick on reader

Why not just use a urine test strip?

Urine test strips have been around for a very long time – they were first invented in 1956! They consist of a plastic strip with a series of dry paper pads (up to 11) on top. These pads change color when they come into contact with a urine sample, and the change in color is compared with a reference chart after roughly two minutes. These test strips are used by your doctor when you bring a urine sample to an annual physical, and you can find a number of startups who will let you use these strips at home. 
After almost 70 years, the only real advance in urine testing has been to make these test strips scannable with a smartphone. While these test strips are usable, they have a number of significant issues:
  • Low accuracy: Smartphone-scanned test strips use a method called reflectance colorimetry. This is enough to estimate the rough concentration of a biomarker (“qualitative” data), but not enough to detects small changes in response to your lifestyle (“quantitative” data)
  • Limited data: Your urine contains a lot of info on your health. However, conventional test strips can only access a small part (11 biomarkers), because they are limited to chemicals which can be dried on paper
  • False negative risk: Many of the test pads on a conventional test strip are unreliable. For instance, test strips cannot tell you with certainty that you do not have a UTI, because many UTI bacteria do not produce white blood cells or nitrite. Likewise, while protein in urine is a sign of kidney damage, not having protein in urine is not a sign that your kidneys are healthy. These urine tests are originally designed to be performed with a blood test, so when urine testing at home, it’s better to focus on diet and lifestyle markers
  • Unpleasant test experience: A lot of sample is required, because all the test pads must be made wet. This requires either peeing into a cup, or directly onto the strip. Additionally, a lot of steps are involved in the test process – collecting a sample, dipping the strip, placing the wet strip on a reference chart, opening the mobile app, starting the timer, taking a photo, and then cleaning up afterwards
The beauty of microfluidics is that it enables us to overcome all these issues, by greatly increasing the test accuracy and reliability, expanding the data test which is accessible, and making the test experience faster, cleaner and more pleasant.
In conclusion
Microfluidics is a technology that helps bring health tracking out of the lab and into the home. While there are few examples of at-home health trackers that use microfluidics, we believe Bisu will be one of the pioneers to change this. By bringing microfluidics to urine testing for wellness, rather than blood testing for traditional diagnostics, we’ve been able to remove the barriers of complexity, regulations and cost that make it hard for microfluidic devices to get into the hands of regular consumers.
If you’re interested in learning more about Bisu Body Coach, check out our Product and Science pages, or send us a question here

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