For anyone squeamish of needles, going for blood work can be nerve-wracking. But there could soon be an alternative that would allow doctors to do all the testing they need from a single drop of blood.

Researchers at the University of Calgary's Schulich School of Engineering have developed a new way to manipulate a small amount of fluid on a microchip to create many tiny samples, each of which could then be analyzed by the chip.

Not only could the technology revolutionize medical testing, it could also change the way food safety testing is done, as well as water quality testing, police forensics and countless other fields of research.

Dr. Karan Kaler, director of the Biosystems Research and Applications Group at the Schulich School of Engineering, says the microchip gives researchers a way to control the exact size of fluid droplets.

"What we have developed is a technique that allows us to put a sample on a chip and then manipulate it and make much, much smaller samples. So we could take a blood sample… from a prick in your finger and dispense it and make it into nano- or picolitre droplets," he explained to CTV's Canada AM Tuesday from Calgary.

"And that would allow us to do a whole bunch of tests on one simple chip."

The new method involves creating a structure called a micro-emulsion, which is a droplet of fluid captured inside a layer of another substance. The two substances don't mix, much like water and oil.

The fluid would be dispensed electronically, tested by sensors on microchips, and the chip would then transfer the data to a computer.

"We could do manipulation, detection and analysis all on the chip and maybe transfer that information by cellphone technology to a hospital or doctor," Kaler explained.

The process would eliminate many of the steps that are traditionally required to separate and transfer droplets. And because the process would be fully automated, there would be less handling of samples by laboratory staff and, therefore, less chance of human error or sample contamination.

The long-term vision for this technology is to create hand-held devices for patients to use at home for testing fluids, such as blood and urine. This could prevent long waits at clinics and deliver test results faster.

Smaller samples would also make testing less invasive and less costly.

Kaler's team has recently published research on the microchip technology in the Royal Society of Chemistry's journal Lab on a Chip and presented their findings at the 2010 International Conference on Biomedical Electronics and Devices and the 13th International Conference on Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences.