Since a number of diseases are identified with the help of blood tests, gaining results faster can probably help provide early treatment. A team of engineers and students from the University of Rhode Island have now crafted a portable device that offers results in less than 30 minutes. The novel invention appears much smaller, more portable, requires a smaller blood sample, and also more affordable than the traditional devices.
On order to use this lab-on-a-chip technology, a drop of blood has to be placed on a plastic polymer cartridge and then inserted into a shoebox-sized biosensor. The biosensor includes a miniature spectrometer and piezoelectric micro-pump that may enable blood to travel through the cartridge in tiny channels 500 microns wide to a detection site. At this site, the blood interacts with preloaded reagents and simultaneously the sensor identifies some biomarkers of disease.
“This development is a big step in point-of-care diagnostics, where testing can be performed in a clinic, in a doctor’s office, or right at home. No longer will patients have to wait anxiously for several days for their test results. They can have their blood tested when they walk into the doctor’s office and the results will be ready before they leave,” explained Mohammad Faghri, URI professor of mechanical engineering and the lead researcher on the project.
Experts designed the first cartridges for detecting C-reactive proteins (CRP) in the blood. Such proteins are believed to aid in analyzing the risk of cardiovascular and peripheral vascular diseases. Then the cartridges were made to identify biomarkers of other diseases. Currently scientists are working on cartridges for determining the levels of the beta amyloid protein. It is known that beta amyloid protein is a predictor for Alzheimer’s disease. The technology is also capable of laying hands on virulent pathogens, like HIV, hepatitis B and H1N1 (swine) flu.
Investigators also focus on modifying this technology into a smartphone application through an embedded biosensor in the cartridge.