Smartphone-driven lab-on-a-chip quickly detects multiple pathogens

In two separate studies, the device detected four horse respiratory diseases, as well as the presence of three viruses, in a droplet of whole blood.

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A team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Washington at Tacoma has developed a novel platform to diagnose infectious disease at the point of care, using a smartphone as the detection instrument in conjunction with a test kit in the format of a credit card. The team's findings demonstrated detection of four horse respiratory diseases, as well as detection and quantification of the presence of zika, dengue, and chikungunya virus in a droplet of whole blood.

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The low-cost, portable, smartphone-integrated system provides a promising solution to address the challenges of infectious disease diagnostics, especially in resource-limited settings or in situations where a result is needed immediately. The diagnostic tool’s integration with mobile communications technology allows personalized patient care, and facilitates information management for both healthcare providers and epidemiological surveillance efforts. Importantly, the system achieves detection limits comparable to those obtained by laboratory-based methods and instruments, in about 30 minutes.

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A useful capability for human point-of-care diagnosis or for a mobile veterinary laboratory is to simultaneously test for the presence of more than one pathogen with a single test protocol, which lowers cost, saves time and effort, and allows for a panel of pathogens, which may cause similar symptoms, to be identified.

The technology is intended to enable clinicians to rapidly diagnose disease in their office or in the field, resulting in earlier, more informed patient management decisions, while markedly improving the control of disease outbreaks. An important prerequisite for the widespread adoption of point-of-care tests at the patient’s side is the availability of detection instruments that are inexpensive, portable, and able to share data wirelessly over the Internet.

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The system uses a commercial smartphone to acquire and interpret real-time images of an enzymatic amplification reaction that takes place in a silicon microfluidic chip that generates green fluorescence and displays a visual read-out of the test. The system is composed of an unmodified smartphone and a portable 3D-printed cradle that supports the optical and electrical components, and interfaces with the rear-facing camera of the smartphone.

The software application operating on the smartphone gathers information about the tests conducted on the microfluidic card, patient-specific information, and the results from the assays, that are then communicated to a cloud storage database.

Next, the researchers want to test the device at multiple sites in multiple geographic locations, and so so in real-world situations.

Full details of the work appear in the journals Analytical Chemistry and Biomedical Microdevices.

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