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Customizable Diagnostic Device Can Detect Many Viruses and Diseases for Rural Medical Care

16 May 2018

New diagnostic block devices have been developed for virus and disease detection in developing countries. The molecular block system can be customized for detection of one or multiple viruses or diseases. They require little to no expertise to put together, making it easy to use in countries where extended medical staff is not readily available.

Jose Gomez-Marquez, co-director of MIT's Little Devices Lab, holds a sheet of paper diagnostic blocks, which can be easily printed and then combined in various ways to create customized diagnostic devices. (Source: Melanie Gonick/MIT)Jose Gomez-Marquez, co-director of MIT's Little Devices Lab, holds a sheet of paper diagnostic blocks, which can be easily printed and then combined in various ways to create customized diagnostic devices. (Source: Melanie Gonick/MIT)

The new system, called Ampli Blocks, was developed by MIT’s Little Devices Lab. The research team hopes to further develop the system to detect human papillomavirus, malaria, Lyme disease, cancer and more.

Similar systems have been developed that can detect these diseases in a similar fashion, but those systems have not been widely distributed because they were expensive and have not been designed for large-scale manufacturing. Companies also have not been interested in manufacturing these devices because they were developed to detect specific diseases. Often these diseases don’t affect a large enough group of people for companies to invest.

The MIT researchers wanted to create an inexpensive system that could be customized and put together for an individual’s needs. Ampli Blocks are inexpensive, at six cents for every four blocks. They also don’t require any refrigeration or special handling, making them easy to transport and operate. In development, the team created 40 blocks made out of a sheet of paper or glass that is put between a plastic or metal block and a glass cover. The blocks are a half inch thick on either side, making them easy to snap together. Some of the blocks have channels or turns for the samples to flow through and some have pipettes to receive the sample or mix them together. The blocks are color-coded by function. This allows the user to assemble them easily based on what they want to test for.

Ampli Blocks have the ability to perform biochemical functions. The blocks contain antibodies that can detect chemicals and molecules in a blood or urine sample for onsite testing. The antibodies are attached to nanoparticles that change color when it detects a molecule in the sample. The researchers were able to create a diagnostics board based on the reaction or series of reactions that the blocks were testing for. For example, one set of blocks was put together to detect three separate molecules that test for isonicotinic acid, showing if a tuberculosis patient is taking their required medication.

After testing, the Ampli Blocks outperformed other versions of paper diagnostic devices that did similar testing. The Ampli Blocks are able to perform multiple tests from urine or saliva. This is a great development because urine or saliva is much easier to get from a patient than blood, especially when the patient is in a rural area.

The next steps for developing Ampli Blocks are to go beyond testing for the diseases. The researchers are focusing on developing blocks to detect drugs in saliva or urine. They also want to integrate LEDs into the system for even easier detection. The ultimate goal for the MIT research team is to create successful large-scale manufacturing and worldwide distribution of their Ampli Blocks.

To contact the author of this article, email Siobhan.Treacy@ieeeglobalspec.com


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