'Lab on a chip' promises screening results in minutes, not days

Would you like a diagnosis on the spot? New technology could eventually bring blood, fluid tests back to point of care.

BOSTON - Don't usually write about healthcare technology, because my fellow SmartPlanet blogger Dana Blankenhorn has got that beat well-covered. But anyone who has waited days if not weeks for the results of a blood or urine test or screening can appreciate the work being done by Claros Diagnostics in Woburn, Mass., a project that was discussed last week during the EmTech@MIT conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Heck, I'm having a physical in a few weeks and I just receive my reminder prescription to go have blood drawn at least three to five days ahead of time.

Why on earth should I have to wait that long? Because, the technology to perform what is known as ELISA (or, an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) is big and expensive.

One of the project's technical leaders, Samuel Sia, assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University in New York, discussed the idea of bringing screening out of the lab and into the front-line of medical care.

Let's be clear: there two very different foci for the research being done by Claros, which has received $7.8 million in venture funding so far. One of the original intentions was to help with diagnosis of sexually transmitted diseases (HIV, syphillis, hepatitits) in the developing world, specifically in Rwanda. But the company has since developed some technology that might be appropriate closer to home for prostate specific antigen (PSA) testing in order to drive broader commercial adoption. That technology, which includes the portable analyzer pictured here, has been approved for testing in the European Union.

Sia says the system can produce a reasonably accurate reading in approximately 12 minutes. At the heart of the technology are microfluidic chips, aka "lab on a chip" that he claims is at least as accurate as ELISA techniques.

Aside from the PSA test, Claros is working on how to bring this technology to bear on many other tests that use blood urine or other fluids as the source.

Of course, the big gating factor on this sort of technology will be accuracy and cost.

I myself would love not to have to go to three different places and make three different appointments every year when I decide to have a preventative health screening (aka physical). Will doctors spring for these systems on their own dime -- imagine being able to tell your patient with some authority whether or not they have some condition that warrants further testing in minutes, not days. Or will you still have to go to a separate lab to find out what's going on?

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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