If the promise of medical technology on par with the devices of Star Trek, as described in a recent Healthline article, can't satisfy your sci-fi hunger, perhaps a mobile medical lab that fits in the palm of your hand will. According to a study published online in Clinical Chemistry, Samuel K. Sia, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Columbia University, has created just such a device.
Based on his concept of the “lab-on-a-chip” for personal health diagnosis, Sia has developed a new hand-held mobile device with the ability to check a patient's HIV status with just a finger prick, while automatically synchronizing the results with central healthcare records.
This new medical marvel is known as the mChip, an integrated microfluidic-based diagnostic tool that can perform laboratory-quality HIV testing in just 15 minutes. This is quite the technological leap, compared to the three hours it takes the ELISA test, a standard diagnostic technique, to produce results.
Sia developed the mChip in collaboration with OPKO Diagnostics, formerly known as Claros Diagnostics. Powered by a battery, the hand-held device’s core functions include fluid pumping, optical detection, and real-time synchronization of diagnostic results with patient records in the cloud.
“Unlike current HIV rapid tests, our device can pick up positive samples normally missed by lateral flow tests, and automatically synchronize the test results with patient health records across the globe using both the cell phone and satellite networks," Sia said in a press release.
A World of Difference
The development of such a device means big things for both doctors and patients across the globe. The portability and simplicity of the mChip allows doctors to take it anywhere, including regions where resources are limited and medical labs are few or non-existent.
In a field-test conducted in Rwanda by a collaborative team from Sia's lab and ICAP at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health, researchers successfully tested more than 200 serum, plasma, and whole blood samples. They also transmitted all whole-blood test results from a Rwandan clinic to a medical records database stored in the cloud.
According to one researcher, the device operated autonomously with minimal input, produced each result in just 15 minutes, and consumed as little power as a mobile phone.
"This is an important step forward for us towards making a real impact on patients," said Jessica Justman, MD, senior technical director at ICAP, in a press release. "And with the real-time data upload, policymakers and epidemiologists can also monitor disease prevalence across geographical regions more quickly and effectively."
Prestigious Awards and the Star Trek Trend
In 2011, Sia’s previous device, "lab-on-a-chip," earned Columbia University the title of Medical Devices runner-up inThe Wall Street Journal's prestigious Technology Innovation Awards. Sia’s next move is to implement an antenatal care panel for diagnosing HIV and sexually transmitted diseases in pregnant women in Rwanda. He's also exploring the use of this kind of device for improving personal health for consumers in the United States.
“We have been working to miniaturize reference laboratory testing for 10 years now,” Sia said in an interview with Healthline. “Clinicians are already using some rapid diagnostic tests, and there are many other tests that physicians, patients, and consumers would find really useful if available.”
Sia, along with other scientists, is working on ways to improve patient health via mobile devices. Is this evidence of a future in which the patient doesn’t visit the doctor for diagnosis, but rather, the doctor visits the patient?
“It's really a question of ‘when’, and not ‘if’, that a large number of health monitoring tests will be made directly available to clinicians and consumers,” Sia said. “Many labor-consuming tasks can now be done with the push of a button on a smartphone, but healthcare continues to lag in keeping up with the times, and it is these inefficiencies that account for a large fraction of the current healthcare spending.”
While healthcare technology may be a little behind the curve, innovations like these open the door for even more Sci-fi inspired devices capable of providing advanced medical treatment in all corners of the world.
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