SOUTH KINGSTOWN – A team of students and engineers from the University of Rhode Island have developed a blood-testing technology that incorporates a smartphone application, a hand-held biosensor and a credit-card sized cartridge, which provides rapid biological analysis and wireless communication of test results.
The “lab-on-a-chip technology” improves on the URI team’s previous system announced in 2011. Several patents are pending on the invention.
“We went from a shoebox-size device last year to a hand-held device with several additional capabilities,” Mohammad Faghri, URI professor of mechanical engineering and the lead researcher on the project, said in a statement. “The smartphone app turns the system on, monitors the assay, and sends the results securely back to your phone or to your doctor, all in about 20 minutes.”
Along with making the system much smaller, the team’s upgrades drastically dropped the cost of the technology. The fluorescence sensor needed for the hand-held unit costs less than $10 versus the $3,200 sensor in the 2011 shoe-box system.
“It’s accuracy, compactness and low cost are a result of an innovative contact imaging system that serves as the fluorescence detector and the central piece of the fluid feedback control system,” said Faghri.
To use the system, a drop of blood from a finger prick is placed on a disposable plastic polymer cartridge and inserted into the biosensor. The blood then travels through the cartridge where it reacts with preloaded reagents is analyzed to detect certain biomarkers of disease.
“Today when you go to the lab to have a blood test, they take vials of liquid from you and you have to wait sometimes days to get the results,” said Faghri. “With our system, you can have your blood tested when you walk into the doctor’s office and the results will be ready before you leave. Or you can do it at home and have the results sent to your doctor in real time.”
The first cartridges the researchers developed detect C-reactive proteins in the blood. This is the way doctors usually assess the risk of heart disease in patients. The URI team said additional cartridges can be engineered to detect biomarkers of other diseases, including virulent pathogens such as HIV, hepatitis B and H1N1, the swine flu.
According to the team, the third generation of the device, which is already in development, will put the entire lab on paper and eliminate the need to actively pump blood and reagents through the cartridge.
The project was primarily funded by the National Science Foundation through its Partnership for International Research and Education Program.