Last month, Dr. Paul Yager, Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington and one of the pioneers of Microfluidics 2.0, took the stage at TEDx Rainier to discuss his lab's work on and his vision for the future of paper-based diagnostics. Dr. Yager talks about the many use cases for paper-based testing, ranging from at-home testing in the developed world ("Can I send my kid to school?" or "What's that itch down there?") to critical disease diagnosis and outbreak control in the developing world and beyond (Ebola). Dr. Yager's talk was just published to YouTube--I highly encourage you to check it out to learn more about this field and the passion that motivates one if its leading researchers.
Based on their thesis research in the Yager Lab, PhD candidates Carly Holstein and Gina Fridley teamed up with MBA candidates Alyssa Hochman, Jonny Holz, and Joel Loveday to develop a business plan for the Flu Finder diagnostic test. Flu Finder is a paper-based assay that aims to improve upon current flu diagnostics by providing a test that is accurate, inexpensive, and can be administered by anyone, anywhere, with results in less than 20 minutes. Flu Finder is envisioned to start as an improved test for use in the doctor's office, but aims to eventually be sold over the counter for use by the patient at home. The team competed in the University of Washington Business Plan Competition and placed 2nd out of 92 teams from across the state. Flu Finder also took home the Best Innovation prize. For the full story from the UW Department of Bioengineering, click here.
The Flu Finder team poses with their second place prize in the UW Business Plan Competition. From left to right: Carly Holstein (PhD candidate, Bioengineering), Alyssa Hochman (MBA candidate), Joel Loveday (MBA candidate), Gina Fridley (PhD candidate, Bioengineering), and Jonny Holz (MBA candidate).
Senior Research Fellow, Juan Pablo Esquivel, and his colleagues in Barcelona, Spain were recently published in Energy & Environmental Science for their work on microfluidic paper fuel cells . This work details the development of a fuel cell consisting of methanol and KOH. By harnessing the capillary flow of porous membranes, the need for external pumps to supply reactants is eliminated. The electrolyte (KOH) and fuel (methanol) are stored within a lateral flow device such that the addition of water generates power. The ability to use the sample, such as blood, to generate power is incredibly beneficial and exciting. I’m not the only one to get excited about it either. The work was highlighted in the March edition of Science Magazine in the Editor’s Choice section , as well as in Chemistry World. This design can be used to power the detection of analyte, replacing the need for button-cell batteries. This truly is powerful work.
Schematic of a paper-based microfluidic fuel cell design. Figure courtesy of J.P. Esquivel.
Seattle Business Magazine recently honored our own Dr. Paul Yager as part of the magazine's 2014 Leaders in Health Care Awards. Dr. Yager was recognized for his "Achievement in Medical Devices," citing his work in paper-based diagnostics and the use of smartphones for analysis. The magazine writes, "That ability to cheaply bring the lab anywhere can benefit health care in the developing world and for soldiers in the field." Congratulations, Dr. Yager!
For more on the awards, check out this wonderful highlight video (Dr. Yager makes an appearance at 0:45):
Our friends in the Little Devices group at MIT were featured in a great NYT piece on January 29th that showcased the amazing medical innovations that are created by hacking together toys and other commonly available parts. From a toy machine gun that can be rigged to buzz when an IV bag is empty (see video below), to an asthma nebulizer constructed from a bike pump, tubing, adapters and filters, these clever hacks are allowing health workers in developing countries to design their own solutions to problems that researchers here in the US can’t predict. Keep it up Little Devices—we can’t wait to see what you guys come up with next!
Rapid and inexpenive nucleic acid assays are challenging to achieve but highly needed for low-cost and point-of-care diagnostics. Yajing Song and co-workers published a paper addressing the above issue by developing a paper-based DNA assay visualized by the naked eye. Their study in the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry demonstrates a novel filter paper-based tool using streptavidin-coated micrometer-sized beads to couple with DNA. Hybridization of the targets was performed by capillary transport through the filter paper array and generated specific signals within 2 min. The resulting signals were detected by the naked eye, as well as measured by a molecular imager. This strategy for visual detection of DNA can be applied not only in a forensic setting but also for point-of-care diagnostics.
In making progress toward an inexpensive paper-based point-of-care device with no electronics required, Scott T. Phillips and coworkers developed a new device that simply relies on keeping track of time. Their study in the ACS journal Analytical Chemistry describes a strategy for quantitative measurement of enzyme analytes in the low to mid femtomolar range. After applying a sample with enzyme analyte to the device, a white assay region turns green, followed by a control region. The user only needs to measure the time for the control region to turn green relative to the assay region. Since the temperature, humidity, and viscosity of the sample will affect the measurement for both the control and assay regions, the control region serves to normalize the output of the assay to account for the effects of these factors. This strategy for a timing-based quantitative assay has great potential for use in remote settings of the world where sophisticated instruments are not options.