A portable device performs analyses and transmits the results from a cellphone
August 20, 2014
The University of Oviedo has participated in this research, which can be applied to the field of clinical analysis, food security and environmental control. In terms of clinical analysis, it will facilitate analyses in areas with limited resources and that the patients and their carers may perform the tests themselves
A research group from Harvard University, led by Professor George M. Whitesides (Prince of Asturias Award for Scientific and Technical Research in 2008), with the participation of a professor from the University of Oviedo, M. Teresa Fernández Abedul, has developed a miniaturized and economic device called uMED (Universal Mobile Electrochemical Detector) that performs analyses with the most common electrochemical techniques and transmits the results of the tests to the Cloud from any cellphone, on any network and in any place in the world. The results of the research have been published by PNAS, the journal of Summaries of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States.
The research is framed in a line of research called "Zero-cost Diagnostics" and will give the possibility of performing analyses in areas that are hard to access with complex instruments and cutting-edge technology, especially in developing countries. At the same time, it will lead to the decentralization of analyses in developed countries so that they can be performed outside laboratories by patients and their carers, in the case of health-related analyses, or by public servants, farmers or soldiers in the field of foods or the environment.
The electrochemical analysis includes a group of techniques with a high potential. Although there are some very important applications, such as glucose sensors or pH monitors, they may be further developed to solve global health, environmental and food problems. In order to do so, their cost and complexity must be reduced, alongside the need for trained staff to perform the analyses and the management of the data. Two enterprises have been born at the University of Oviedo, MicruX and DropSens, from the research group led by Tenured Professor of Analytical Chemistry Agustín Costa. They are working in this same line, developing miniaturized electrochemical instruments to perform decentralized analyses. In fact, some of the electrodes used in this research (and, more concretely, those used to detect heavy materials in the water and the PfHRP2 antigen, related to malaria) were serigraphed by DropSens.
The potential of these electrochemical techniques is shown in the case of the uMED device through for important applications: 1) as a tool for personal diagnosis to determine the glucose levels in the blood; 2) as a device to control in situ the quality of water in terms of heavy metals; 3) as a detector of electrolites in the urine, and 4) as a immunoanalytical tool to detect malaria.
The uMED device generates a result (for example, concentration of lead in the water, the glucose in the blood or the sodium in the urine), so that if the analysis is performed by trained staff or if there is a follow up of the patients, it would not be necessary to make more steps afterwards. But in the case of remote analyses or in places with limited resources, the data can be transferred to a hospital or health center, either to be archived or to be analyzed and then sent back, through a text message, with relevant information for the case. The signal is sent from the device, through an audio port, to a phone, which in turn calls a remote computer that may link it with the hospital that monitors the patient or with an online database. This way, with a cheap and multi-purpose tool, quantitative analyses may be performed in areas of limited resources without any highly-trained staff.