Each year, around 80,000 people in Germany become seriously ill from occlusions of veins caused by blood clots. Such thromboses can cause pulmonary embolism or even heart attacks. Although it wouldn’t have been of much concern over the past week thanks to the ash from Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano grounding flights across Europe, air travel is recognized as a risk factor for deep vein thrombosis with evidence showing the wearing of compression socks or tights while traveling reduces the incidence of thrombosis in people on long flights. However many people don’t wear such items as they don’t realize they may be at risk. A new fast and easy test of the risk of travel-related thrombosis will soon be possible – and all airline passengers will have to relinquish is one drop of blood.

Although such tiny analysis systems are still science fiction, researchers from eight European countries are developing the essential foundations that would enable a miniscale lab-on-a-chip that will assess the risk of travelers with the results appearing on a display in minutes. To facilitate the cost-efficient manufacturing of disposable diagnostic systems it is designed in plastic to enable inexpensive sheets or reel-to-reel production.

The core of the future lab-on-chip analytical device was built and tested at IZM. It is a small, high-precision manufactured single-use cartridge that acts as a tool for the biochemical analysis of a drop of blood. It consists of a polycarbonate plate measuring 3 mm by 22 mm by 70 mm, and unites two critical components in one device: the most important component - a foil of 150 micrometers thickness, on which a filigree network with conductor lines and gold sensors for blood analysis is attached, as well as a 120 micrometer deep fluid channel for conducting blood to the analysis elements.

Inside the sensor chamber, the antibodies are integrated on electrodes that allow it to analyze the concentration of blood clotting markers. If the number is elevated, then there is a risk of a thrombus - i.e. a blood clot –forming.

Aside from airline travelers the researchers say the system could be important for stroke patients as well as smokers, pregnant women or the obese as they will no longer have to wait days for lab results on a possible clot forming in their blood. Just like glucose tests, a drop of the patient's blood suffices on the single-use cartridge the physician places then in a little hand-held scanner. Within minutes, the results appear on the display - and, if necessary, immediately apply the according measures.

The EU DVT-Imp project on the feasibility of the system runs until the middle of this year.