While most blood tests require shipping a vial of
blood to a laboratory for analysis and waiting several days for the results, a
new device invented by a team of engineers and students at the Univ. of Rhode Island uses just a pinprick of
blood in a portable device that provides results in less than 30 minutes.
“This development is a big step in
point-of-care diagnostics, where testing can be performed in a clinic, in a
doctor’s office, or right at home,” said Mohammad Faghri, URI professor of
mechanical engineering and the lead researcher on the project. “No longer
will patients have to wait anxiously for several days for their test results.
They can have their blood tested when they walk into the doctor’s office and
the results will be ready before they leave.”
With the new lab-on-a-chip technology, a drop of
blood is placed on a plastic polymer cartridge smaller than a credit card and
inserted into a shoebox-sized biosensor containing a miniature spectrometer and
piezoelectric micro-pump. The blood travels through the cartridge in tiny
channels 500 microns wide to a detection site where it reacts with preloaded
reagents enabling the sensor to detect certain biomarkers of disease.
Several patents are pending on the invention.
Compared to similar devices in development
elsewhere, the URI system is much smaller, more portable, requires a smaller
blood sample, and is less expensive. While the sensor costs about $3,200, each
test costs just $1.50, which is the cost for the plastic cartridge and
The first cartridges the researchers developed
focus on the detection of C-reactive proteins (CRP) in the blood, a preferred
method for helping doctors assess the risk of cardiovascular and peripheral
vascular diseases. From 2002 to 2004 (the only years for which data are
available), the number of CRP tests paid for by Medicare tripled from 145,000
to 454,000, and it is estimated that those numbers have quadrupled since then.
Faghri said that additional cartridges can be
designed to detect biomarkers of other diseases. The researchers are already
working to engineer the device to detect levels of the beta amyloid protein
that can be used as a predictor of Alzheimer’s disease. The device can also be
engineered to detect virulent pathogens, including HIV, hepatitis B, and H1N1
The next generation of the device will incorporate
a hand-held sensor that will reduce manufacturing costs. Faghri also envisions
a further miniaturization of the invention that can be adapted as a smartphone
application. By embedding the biosensor in the cartridge and using the computer
power of the phone, as well as its wireless communication capabilities, Faghri
believes that patients may be able to conduct the tests themselves and have the
results transmitted immediately to their doctor’s office via their phone. Among
many other benefits, this should help to significantly reduce health care
“We are already making progress on many of the steps toward the next
generation of the system, and it won’t be long before we can begin to
commercialize it,” Faghri said.