Move over MRIs, CAT scans, biopsies, and blood tests; there’s a new diagnostic test in town—one so simple that almost anyone can use it. Best of all, there’s no need for invasive surgery or complicated, high-priced tests. All it takes is a single touch.
A team of industrial and biomedical engineers from Purdue University has released a brand new medical-diagnostic device capable of detecting biomarkers that can identify diseases with just a touch. But it’s not some fancy machine—it’s a simple piece of paper.
The SPED (self-powered, paper-based electrochemical devices) use electrochemical analysis to identify and diagnose diseases. To use the SPED, a pinprick of blood is placed in a circular feature on the device. The top layer of paper contains untreated cellulose paper containing hydrophobic regions that “channel” the blood samples for testing. The channels actually change color according to the biomarkers identified in the blood. Biomarkers identified include uric acid, glucose, ketones, white blood cells, and L-lactate, all of which are factors related to anemia, malnutrition, and dysfunction of the liver and kidneys.
The bottom layer of the paper is a triboelectric generator, which is capable of generating the electrical current required for analysis of the blood sample. Essentially, it’s a self-powered device made entirely out of paper.
According to one of the paper’s co-authors, the device is “capable of performing rapid, accurate, and sensitive electrochemical assays in combination with a low-cost, portable potentiostat (battery-powered generator) that can be recharged using a paper-based TEG.”
The new device has been called a “portable laboratory that is just completely made out of paper, is inexpensive and can be disposed of through incineration.” The intention is to provide a simple, cheap diagnostic tool that can be used everywhere: from hospitals and clinics to military bases to remote villages. The SPEDs would provide a way to test for a broad range of diseases without the need for equipment, electricity, or even clean water.
Check out this YouTube video to see how the SPED works:
For now, the SPED is capable of diagnosing just a few of the more common diseases. However, according to the researchers, “Future versions of the technology will contain several additional layers for more complex assays to detect diseases such as dengue fever, yellow fever, malaria, HIV, and hepatitis.”