Scottish team demonstrates Star-Trek inspired diagnostic device

Glasgow University researchers have announced the development of a Star-Trek inspired hand-held electronic device that could be used for rapid diagnosis of conditions including heart attacks, strokes and cancer.

Star-Trek inspired
A prototype consisting of a post-processed CMOS-chip with electronic readout attached to an Android-based tablet for data acquisition

Inspired by Star Trek’s famed Tricorder, the Glasgow group’s multicorder device – described in in a paper published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics, pairs a handheld sensor with a smartphone app to measure the levels of various metabolites in fluid samples from patients.

Metabolites are small molecules found in fluids from the human body. By measuring and monitoring their relative abundance, scientists can keep track of general heath or the progression of specific diseases.

The ability to rapidly detect and quantify multiple metabolite biomarkers simultaneously makes this device particularly useful in cases of heart attack, cancer and stroke, where rapid diagnosis is vital for effective treatment.

Metabolites can be measured by existing processes such as nuclear magnetic resonance and hyphenated mass spectrometry techniques, but both approaches are expensive and require bulky equipment that can be slow to offer diagnostic results.

The new device is built around a new form of complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) chip. CMOS chips are inexpensive to produce and are often used in imaging devices.

The chip is smaller than a fingertip and is divided into multiple reaction zones to detect and quantify four metabolites simultaneously from body fluid such as serum or urine. The device can be operated via any Android-based tablet or smartphone which provides data acquisition, computation, visualisation and power.

Lead author on the paper, Dr Samadhan Patil said: “We have been able to detect and measure multiple metabolites associated with myocardial infarction, or heart attack, and prostate cancer simultaneously using this device. This device has potential to track progression of the disease in its early phase and is ideally suited for the subsequent prognosis.”

Commenting on the longer-term potential of the technology Prof David Cumming, Principal Investigator on the project said: “Handheld, inexpensive diagnostic devices capable of accurately measuring metabolites open up a wide range of applications for medicine, and with this latest development we’ve taken an important step closer to bringing such a device to market.”

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