Global Challenges/Chemistry Solutions

Combating Disease: Paper-based device could bring medical testing to remote locales

January 27, 2014

Paper test
An inexpensive paper-based device could bring point-of-care diagnosis and disease monitoring to remote, resource-limited places.
Credit: American Chemical Society

Summary

In remote regions of the world where electricity is hard to come by and scientific instruments are even scarcer, conducting medical tests at a doctor’s office or medical lab is rarely an option. Scientists are now reporting progress toward an inexpensive point-of-care, paper-based device to fill that void with no electronics required. Their study on the extremely sensitive test, which simply relies on the user keeping track of time, appears in the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry.

In remote regions of the world where electricity is hard to come by and scientific instruments are even scarcer, conducting medical tests at a doctor’s office or medical lab is rarely an option. So today’s solution is an inexpensive point-of-care, paper-based device to fill that void with no electronics required. This extremely sensitive test simply relies on the user keeping track of time. The report appears in the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry.

Conventional medical tests, conducted at a doctor’s office or clinical laboratory, detect or monitor disease with a hand-held or desktop electronic device. Here is Scott T. Phillips, Ph.D., who is with The Pennsylvania State University, and is the lead author of the paper.

“Many of these tests work by measuring the levels of specific proteins in a patient’s blood that can indicate a wide range of serious medical conditions, including heart attacks and certain cancers. Our team wanted to develop a similar and sensitive tool to measure small amounts of disease markers that would be much less expensive, easier to operate and work without a power source.”

Through their research they created a testing tool just like that.

“We developed a new paper-based device that is about the size of a stick of gum. In initial experiments, we used it to detect a liver enzyme that in high amounts can suggest liver or bone problems, and another enzyme that is a marker for fecal contamination in water. The device uses just a few inexpensive materials and can be altered to measure a wide range of enzymes to monitor many different conditions.”

Smart Chemists/Innovative Thinking

Smart chemists. Innovative thinking. That’s the key to solving global challenges of the 21st century. Please check out more of our full-length podcasts on wide-ranging issues facing chemistry and science, such as promoting public health, developing new fuels and confronting climate change, at www.acs.org/GlobalChallenges. Today’s podcast was written by Michael Bernstein. I’m Katie Cottingham at the American Chemical Society in Washington.

Scott T. Phillips
Scott T. Phillips, Ph.D., Pennsylvania State University