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Lab-on-a-chip in The Netherlands-How can the development be understood and what can be expected of the future?

By R.F. Ilgen


Nanotechnology based lab-on-a-chip devices facilitate faster, cheaper and more accurate analyses than conventional measurement techniques. In addition, they provide the opportunity for direct analyses at location, such as a patient’s home. Besides medical applications, lab-on-a-chip devices can be used for bacteria detection in the food industry, monitoring environmental pollution and continuously screening of chemical processes. However, despite these advantages and various application possibilities, the market does not take off. This hampering development of nanotechnology based lab-on-a-chip devices is the focus of this research. One of the frontrunners in lab-on-a-chip is The Netherlands due to a strong electronics sector and high quality research in life sciences. In addition, the Dutch government is investing heavily in public-private programs, such as NanoNextNL, to stimulate the development of lab-on-a-chip. Although the investments have resulted in the production of nanotechnology based lab-on-a-chip devices, the development of lab-on-a-chip is also hampered in The Netherlands. This research aims to understand this development with the research question being: “How can the development of lab-on-a-chip in The Netherlands be understood within the period 1990- present and what can be expected of the future?”. First, scientific literature on lab-on-a-chip technologies has been studied in order to identify the different technologies which served as a mapping tool for categorizing the various developments of lab-on-a-chip in The Netherlands. Hereafter, an event analysis has been conducted for lab-on-a-chip technologies in general, which served to sketch the Dutch lab-on-a-chip landscape with its most important development processes and the actors involved. The most important actors in The Netherlands, derived from this event analysis, were categorized according to this distinction based on the lab-on-a-chip technology they relate to. Next, a detailed event analysis has been conducted per technological development pathway, to describe a narrative per technological development pathway and to reveal differences in the particular development processes. The Technological Innovation System (TIS) approach served as a heuristic tool in detecting these development processes. Lastly, each technological development pathway has been investigated in terms of the interpretations by the actors involved of lab-on-a-chip technology to reveal differences with respect to the socio-technical development of each technology. The theory of Social Construction Of Technology (SCOT) approach was used to study this socio-technical development. The combination of the TIS and SCOT analysis served as the framework this study used to understand the development of each lab-on-a-chip technological development pathway present in The Netherlands. This understanding is visualized with a technology roadmap in which past, current and future developments are depicted. The results show that seven different types of lab-on-a-chip technology can be distinguished in The Netherlands, i.e. 1. Capillary driven, 2. Pressure driven, 3. Centrifugally driven, 4. Electrokinetically driven, 5. Droplet based, 6. Free scale non-contact dispensing (FSNCD) based and 7. Magnetically driven. With regard to the hampered development of lab-on-a-chip devices, the combined results of the TIS and SCOT analysis show that the electrokinetically driven lab-on-a-chip technological development pathway is the only development pathway that experiences this hampered development. Thus, the general idea that markets for lab-on-a-chip are not taking off is, based on this research, only visible within the electrokinetically driven lab-on-a-chip technological development pathway. The general idea is influenced by the fact that electrokinetically driven chips experience the most attention due to its promises for a decentralized healthcare. However, these same promises are presently perceived by the general public as being too radical when fully implemented, hence hampering the further implementation of this technology. As the results of the other lab-on-a-chip technologies show, this hampered development is not visible, also because some development pathways are in an early stage of development. Two more further developed lab-on-a-chip technologies are the capillary driven and pressure driven chips, which are less visible to the general public. These technologies do not experience this hampered development. The capillary driven chips circumvent the decentralization issue by applying the technology to other industries, such as the food industry, or by developing chips designed to operate within the present centralized healthcare system. For the pressure driven chips, the decentralization issue is entirely circumvented by producing chips designed for integration in chemical processes or destined for chemical research. Comparing the developments it is expected that the pressure driven and capillary driven lab-on-a-chip technological development pathways will experience the least development difficulties in the near future. The electrokinetically driven lab-on-a-chip technology will mostly be implemented in niche markets if the different perceptions on the decentralization aspects are not settled. The droplet based and FSNCD based lab-on-a-chip technologies are expected to experience less difficulties, because the development is directed to specific fields of scientific research. However, the early phase of development these technologies are currently in, makes anticipating on the future development difficult. This is even more the case for the magnetically driven lab-on-a-chip technologies, for which no sensible expectations could be given. Lastly, it is expected that the centrifugally driven lab-on-a-chip technology will not further develop

Topics: Geowetenschappen, Lab-on-a-chip, Nanotechnology, TIS, SCOT, Technological development pathway
Year: 2012
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