Infectious diseases these days seem to have gotten a lot of attention, with media hype and threats of pandemics often being portrayed in apocalyptic sci-fi movies. We all know that several types of these diseases can spread rapidly, and it is crucial that doctors be able to identify them quickly in order to prevent an epidemic. Unfortunately, current testing methods can take hours and even days, delaying the process of adequate prevention. It should then ease your mind to hear that researchers at the University of Tennessee have invented a device that can rapidly detect these unwanted afflictions.
"Time is of the essence in treating infectious diseases," said Jayne Wu, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering at the University of Tennessee. "This device has the potential to save a lot of lives by saving time in detection. It also saves a lot of money as it is cheaper to detect diseases than the system that is currently being used since we do not have to send them to a lab and have the sample be scrutinized by technicians."
The portable device developed by the University of Tennessee researchers can be used onsite to detect infectious diseases, pathogens and physiological conditions in people and animals. Furthermore, it has been designed to be easily used by any health care professional in any location. A droplet of blood is simply placed onto a microchip which is slotted into the device. The microchip is then treated with disease-specific antigens and can quickly identify if these disease-specific antibodies are present in the blood sample. If the antigens and antibodies match, then the device automatically informs the health care provider that the patient is infected. This all occurs in the space of minutes. To date, the device has been used to detect tuberculosis in humans and wild animals, and Johne's disease in cattle.
"Johne's disease is highly prevalent in this country and is causing more than $200 million of annual losses to the U.S. dairy industry," said Shigetoshi Eda, associate professor of Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries at the UT Institute of Agriculture Center for Wildlife Health. "Since there is no practical treatment for the disease, early diagnosis is critically important for disease control in dairy farms. This, in turn, helps farmers' business and the milk supply."
The researchers hope to further develop the device so it can detect a broader range of diseases and physiological conditions. In the future, it is envisioned that the device could diagnose cancer, Alzheimer's disease and even detect pathogens in food materials.
Source: University of Tennessee