In war and disaster, ignorance can be deadly, so it’s important that soldiers and first responders get the information they need as quickly as possible. Dr. Peter White, a scientist with Britain's Ministry of Defence, has invented a handheld device that makes collecting samples and carrying out tests in the field much simpler and faster than previously possible. Developed at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), the Integrated Multiplex Assay and Sampling System (IMASS) can collect samples of and detect eight different substances simultaneously.
Originally designed to sample and detect hazardous and explosive materials, IMASS is a very simple device. Essentially, it’s a plastic cylinder containing eight assay strips. These strips can test powder, liquids or surfaces directly by removing the cap and touching IMASS to the area. The assay strips then react to the sample in the same way as a home pregnancy kit, providing a positive or negative result. Exactly what the strips detect depends on the needs of the user, and IMASS can be custom outfitted for specific substances with strips that are chemistry or immunoassay-based. It can also be used for enzymatic detection.
Ease of use is particularly important, since IMASS is intended for field use. "Devices that are currently fielded do not integrate sampling with detection and are not easy to use if you are wearing gloves,” said Dr. White. "This invention combines a mature, established detection technology into an integrated handheld device that could be used by a generalist front line operator wearing protective clothing."
The original users of IMASS are front line troops and counter-terrorism personnel, but that will soon expand to include British forensic and security forces. With this in mind, the Home Office has provided funding to Dstl to study how IMASS can be used in anti-terrorism operations.
In addition, overseas markets have shown interest in the device. Dstl through its technology transfer company Ploughshare Innovations Ltd has licensed the patented technology to BBI Detection Ltd. BBI has further developed IMASS for detecting food allergens and illegal drugs, and sees more applications in hospitals or in bio-threat situations where responders must work in cumbersome protective clothing.