Could New ‘Lab in a Needle’ Medical Device Pave Way for Instant Diagnostic Tests?

If a new prototype being developed by researchers from the United States and Singapore finds success, diagnostic laboratories will be able to conduct routine lab tests in a matter of minutes, and not hours or days. The innovative medical device, being termed a ‘lab in a needle’, can be used both on field and in a laboratory. The team of researchers says that the device could be used not just for diagnosis, but also as a tool to monitor the progress of maintenance therapies.

Researchers working on this study hail from the U.S.-based Houston Methodist and Singapore’s NTU and SIMTech. The researchers recently evaluated the prototype of the medical device by conducting a common liver-function test to check ALT and AST enzyme levels in the blood, and the results were found to be accurate. The researchers opine that the test could prove especially useful in cancer cases where regular liver screening tests are required during the chemotherapy phase. The current set of tests used for determining enzyme levels in the liver can take a few days before the results are obtained. These tests also often require doctors to send samples to external laboratories. But if the ‘lab in a needle’ project is successful, this test can be conducted conveniently within a doctor’s office and the results would take approximately 30 minutes.

This will be possible thanks to a chip that is placed inside the prototype device, and features microfluidics and a miniature motor. The sample is prepared within the medical device, allowing for its instant analysis. The sample is amplified using another connected chip for accurate results.

The researchers claim that this is the first time that various stages in the diagnostic process, right from sample preparation to the measurement of enzyme levels, have been integrated in this fashion. The success of this product could potentially lead to its mass production and prove disruptive in the diagnostic technologies domain.

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