A lab-on-a-chip for fast, inexpensive blood tests

Pretty soon, you'll be able to use a device that will let you take blood tests at home and upload them to your doctor. Are you ready for a digital health revolution?
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

We've all experienced the frustrating experience of waiting hours at a doctor's office, only then to go into a room with a nurse and have to give a test tube of blood. Your blood is then sent to a lab for tests. Again, you wait days for the results. Enough of the waiting game.

The good news? The slow diagnosis process might soon change, thanks to a certain lab-on-chip technology that has been developed in a lab in Rhode Island.

I can already see the commercial: Blood tests? There's an app for that!

Researchers at the University of Rhode Island have developed a blood test that can produce results in less than a half an hour. All it requires is a drop of your blood...and a lab-on-chip device. The biosensor and micro-pump carry the blood through the device's channels. That's when reagents in the device help sensors sniff out certain diseases.

URI professor Mohammad Faghri said:

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. 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.

The device can now test for a person's risk of cardiovascular and peripheral vascular diseases. But the cartridges can be designed to look for biomarkers of other diseases too.

In the future, Faghri thinks the tests can detect pathogens such as HIV, hepatitis B and H1N1. The engineers are also working on getting the device ready for detecting Alzheimer's disease.

The sensor costs $3,200 and the tests cost $1.50.

The $1.50 price covers the cost of the credit-card sized cartridge and reagents that are needed to perform the test.

The device will have a sensor you can fit in your hand and may soon come with a smartphone application.

Ultimately, the idea is that you would be able to conduct the blood test yourself at home and upload the results to your doctor using your phone's signal. The researcher thinks the chip technology will be ready for commercialization soon, and of course, he has already filed some patents on the invention.

Personal health apps are starting to make their way into consumer hands.

At the Consumer Electronics Show this year, iHealth showed off their BPM3 Blood Pressure Monitor, which turns your phone into a digital nurse, as it records your blood pressure.

Health technology, plus the popularity of smart phones, will help the personal health movement mature from a cool idea to reality. Think about it: the more data points patients can collect, the better. It gives doctors a better picture of their patient's over-all health.

That's the idea, at least.

Are we in for a digital health care revolution?

You decide.

Jason Goldberg, founder of Ideal Life, believes we are. Goldberg said in a statement:

"Technologies formally were cost prohibitive. But I can now sit down at the kitchen table for breakfast and check my blood sugar," he said, and transmit the data in real-time to a health care provider using a device that costs less than $100.

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