Reading disc-based bioassays with standard computer drives

Acc Chem Res. 2013 Feb 19;46(2):258-68. doi: 10.1021/ar300104b. Epub 2012 Oct 1.


Traditional methods of disease diagnosis are both time-consuming and labor-intensive, and many tests require expensive instrumentation and trained professionals, which restricts their use to biomedical laboratories. Because patients can wait several days (even weeks) for the results, the consequences of delayed treatment could be disastrous. Therefore, affordable and simple point-of-care (POC) biosensor devices could fill a diagnostic niche in the clinic or even at home, as personal glucose meters do for diabetics. These devices would allow patients to check their own health conditions and enable physicians to make prompt treatment decisions, which could improve the chances for rapid recovery and cure. Compact discs (CDs) provide inexpensive substrate materials for the preparation of microarray biochips, and conventional computer drives/disc players can be adapted as precise optical reading devices for signal processing. Researchers can employ the polycarbonate (PC) base of a CD as an alternative substrate to glass slides or silicon wafers for the preparation of microanalytical devices. Using the characteristic optical phenomena occurring on the metal layer of a CD, researchers can develop biosensors based on advanced spectroscopic readout (interferometry or surface plasmon resonance). If researchers integrate microfluidic functions with CD mechanics, they can control fluid transfer through the spinning motion of the disc, leading to "lab-on-a-CD" devices. Over the last decade, our laboratory has focused on the construction of POC biosensor devices from off-the-shelf CDs or DVDs and standard computer drives. Besides the initial studies of the suitability of CDs for surface and materials chemistry research (fabrication of self-assembled monolayers and oxide nanostructures), we have demonstrated that an ordinary optical drive, without modification of either the hardware or the software driver, can function as the signal transducing element for reading disc-based bioassays quantitatively. In this Account, we first provide a brief introduction to CD-related materials chemistry and microfluidics research. Then we describe the mild chemistry developed in our laboratory for the preparation of computer-readable biomolecular screening assays: photochemical activation of the polycarbonate (PC) disc surface and immobilization and delivery of probe and target biomolecules. We thoroughly discuss the analysis of the molecular recognition events: researchers can "read" these devices quantitatively with an unmodified optical drive of any personal computer. Finally, and critically, we illustrate our digitized molecular diagnosis approach with three trial systems: DNA hybridization, antibody-antigen binding, and ultrasensitive lead detection with a DNAzyme assay. These examples demonstrate the broad potential of this new analytical/diagnostic tool for medical screening, on-site food/water safety testing, and remote environmental monitoring.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Biological Assay / instrumentation*
  • Compact Disks*
  • Computers*
  • Humans
  • Materials Testing
  • Microfluidics*
  • Polycarboxylate Cement / chemistry


  • Polycarboxylate Cement
  • polycarbonate