A new low-cost device could be used to diagnose diseases in remote regions, where limited health facilities make it difficult to deal with epidemics. The system can provide accurate diagnoses from tiny samples of blood, and has been successfully tested with Ebola.

The device, which is being developed by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), can detect numerous biomarkers in tiny samples of blood, making use of silicone rubber with miniscule channels running through it, each just the width of a single hair. We've seen many diagnostic devices that make use of microfluidic tech over the last few years, including an innovative "lab in a needle" system that uses biopsied liver samples to provide diagnoses, and "lab-in-a-briefcase" solution for detecting cancer in developing countries.

The EPFL system is well-suited to use in remote locations. It runs on battery power and works with widely available, inexpensive microscopes. It's able to detect up to 16 different biomarkers in less than 0.005 milliliters of blood. The biomarkers, which are usually things like proteins, hormones or enzymes, can be used to provide a detailed picture of a patient's health, picking up numerous different diseases.

The system uses both digital and analog detection mechanisms, with the former providing a highly-sensitive detection of single biomarkers, while the latter is better at dealing with high concentrations of biomarkers. It also works without the need to pre-treat blood samples, which is a big bonus, as the use of a centrifuge to separate plasma is time-consuming and requires large volume samples.

The system has already been successfully tested on a sample containing anti-Ebola antibodies, which indicate the presence of the virus even before the patient has begun to show symptoms. The researchers believe that the device could be used to detect a large number of other biomarkers, addressing a growing need for convenient diagnostic tools for use in remote locations.

"The platform will lead the development of new kinds of tests to meet the increasing demand for on-site diagnostic testing," said paper lead author Francesco Piraino. "It will prove very useful for medical staff working in resource-limited regions."

The research is published in the journal ACS Nano.

Source: EPFL