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Lab on a chip to measure health, germs, pollutants
June 18, 2017, 12:59 pm

A wearable device that continuously analyzes your sweat or blood for different types of biomarkers, such as proteins that show you may have breast cancer or lung cancer, could be readily available in a few years’ time.

Engineers at Rutgers University in the US have invented a biosensor technology — known as a lab on a chip — that could be used in hand-held or wearable devices to monitor your health and exposure to dangerous bacteria, viruses and pollutants.

The scientists say their invention is really important in the context of personalized medicine or personalized health monitoring as the technology enables true labs on chips. The technology involves electronically barcoding micro-particles by passing them through electrical fields so they can be identified when used to test for health and disease indicators, bacteria and viruses, along with air and other contaminants.

In recent decades, research on biomarkers, such as proteins or DNA molecules that are indicators of health and disease, has revealed the complex nature of the molecular mechanisms behind human disease. That has heightened the importance of testing bodily fluids for numerous biomarkers simultaneously.

"One biomarker is often insufficient to pinpoint a specific disease because of the heterogeneous nature of various types of diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and inflammatory disease," said the team behind the invention. "To get an accurate diagnosis and accurate management of various health conditions, you need to be able to analyze multiple biomarkers at the same time."

Bulky optical instruments are the current technology for detecting and measuring biomarkers, but they are too big to wear or add to a portable device. Electronic detection of micro-particles allows for ultra-compact instruments needed for wearable devices. The Rutgers researchers' technique for barcoding particles is, for the first time, fully electronic. That allows biosensors to be shrunken to the size of a wearable band or a micro-chip. The technology is greater than 95 percent accurate in identifying biomarkers and fine-tuning is underway to make it 100 percent accurate, the team said.

A small tool that could analyze a swab sample of what is on the doorknob of a bathroom or front door and detect influenza or a wide array of other virus particles; or testing a salad at a restaurant for dangerous E. coli or Salmonella bacteria, are not too far off. The team behind the invention says their tool could be commercially available within about two years, and health monitoring and diagnostic tools could be available within about five years.

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