Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have created customizable hydrogel microparticles capable of identifying different biomolecules, disease monitoring, drug discovery, or genetic profiling. Each particle is equipped with a bar-coded ID and one or more probe regions that turn fluorescent when they detect specific targets in a test sample. The technology could make possible the development of low-cost clinical bedside diagnostics.

To rapidly "read" the particles, the researchers designed a custom "flow cytometer" using a microfluidic device and standard microscope. In this flow-through system, the oblong, disk-like shape of the particles ensures that they are precisely aligned for accurate scanning. Each time a particle flows past a detector, its barcode is read and the corresponding target is quantified.

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