Friday, February 26, 2010

Paper chip medical diagnoses anyone can perform

Paper Lab - The prototype of the paper lab-on-a-chip looks similar to this earlier Whitesides Lab device, except that it would test blood instead of urine [CTRL-CLICK image to see "how it works" video]. Image Credit: Whitesides Lab

Paper chip medical diagnoses anyone can perform

Automating medical tests on the human body just got a lot easier. The process is similar to litmus paper testing but this medical lab on a paper chip can diagnose a wide array of human conditions for about one cent and anyone can perform the tests.

A Harvard University chemist has created a prototype "chip" technology out of paper that could help diagnose HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and other diseases for just a penny each time.

Litmus paper is handy as a general acid-base indicator, but you can get much more specific results if you use an indicator that has a more narrow test range or that offers a wider color range. Image Credit:

According to CNN, a drop of blood on one side of the paper chip results in a colorful tree-like pattern that tells physicians or nurses whether a person has certain diseases. Water-repellent comic-book ink helps channel the blood into the tree-like pattern, as several layers of treated paper react to the blood and create the telling colors ... just as litmus paper would do, but this approach performs several diagnoses on one paper chip.

The developer/inventor of this testing breakthrough, George Whitesides, Harvard chemist, explained that the colors can also reveal the severity of a disease rather than just saying if a person has it or not. It's not the most sophisticated lab-on-a-chip created, but that's the point -- many of these could become cheap diagnostic tools for a developing world that often lacks physicians and clinics.

Mobile phones with cameras can be used to share the pattern results from the paper chip from anywhere cell service is available. Patients in Africa or Asia, where cellphones have become wildly popular ... even in the poorest regions, could send the photos on to medical centers for proper diagnosis.

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