Diagnosing Disease on Demand

Let’s face it—we live in an on-demand world. So why not be able to detect infectious disease, anywhere at any time? Our researchers are on it. In conjunction with Paul Yager’s laboratory at the University of Washington and through a DARPA-funded grant, we’re working to develop an instrument-free, paper-based, fully disposable diagnostic platform that can detect a broad set of infectious diseases—in less than an hour.

This inexpensive device will make a huge difference in places where there aren’t any medical testing facilities, such as military outposts and communities in remote areas and would be simple enough that untrained users would administer the test, much like an over-the-counter pregnancy test. Some additional benefits of this device include:

  • Detecting multiple pathogens by their DNA or RNA, in less than 1 hour
  • Sample-to-result anywhere (ER, doctor’s office, clinic, remote settings, or at home)
  • Low enough cost and high enough performance to enable widespread use of sophisticated medical testing
  • Fully-disposable diagnostic platform that could be expanded to water quality monitoring, livestock and veterinary medicine and agricultural analyses (genetic modification; food contamination)

How would it work? A patient would take a nasal swab to activate the disposable device. The device would look for the DNA or RNA of a specific set of pathogens in the body fluid sample. If the pathogen is present, dots would appear on the test paper within an hour. This is where smart phones come in. The user would snap a photo of the device and send it to a medical care provider anywhere in the world for diagnosis. Now that’s diagnosis, on demand.

Bringing this device to life takes a team of biochemists, molecular biologists, mechanical, biomedical and chemical engineers, organic and analytical chemists and material scientists. The close collaboration between these skill sets is essential to advancing this technology.

 Currently, the team is focused on building a test that targets bacteria that resist antibiotics and spread by contact, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MSRA). However the platform being developed can measure all sorts of bacterial or viral targets. In the future, the team is looking to develop tests for the flu, sexually transmitted infections and other infectious diseases.