I could not stop myself from writing about this, it sounded really techie at the onset but I realized how effective it can be if it is implemented on a large scale. This is about the brainchild of a Harvard University Professor, Mr. George Whitesides. I stumbled upon it while surfing the internet and immediately thought it would be worthwhile to mentioned it here. Its about “Paper Diagnostics”.
Paper, as many might know is one of the oldest technologies known to mankind. Professor George has blended this old technology with something relatively newer, called micro-fluidics, to come up with a promising tech tool which has the potential to reshape the medical landscape.
Before explaining the technology let me try giving some basic idea about the technologies involved in the developmental process. I will take the liberty of assuming that everyone knows what a paper is, and thus will start my explanation with micro-fluidics.
Liquids follow some rules and display some behavior which characterizes them. The behavior becomes more so intrigued and complex when the scale is small. Micro-fluidics deals with the control and behavior of the liquid in very minute scale.
The main concept:
The tools that we are talking about are of very small size, almost the size of a postage stamp. The devices are paper squares of extremely small dimension. Let us look into the steps to build the device:
- Tiny channels of about a millimeter in width are built on square pieces of paper to direct the fluid to the test wells.
- The porosity of the paper acts as a pump for the liquid.
- The paper is soaked with light sensitive photo-resist. The ultraviolet light causes polymers in the photo-resist to harden and thus give shape to long and strong waterproof walls whenever light hits the soaked walls.
- Each well is brushed with a different solution that react with specific molecules in the blood or urine to trigger a color change
Usage and other key points:
1. The edge of the square paper is dipped in the sample to be tested. It can be a urine sample or a blood sample.
2. The liquid once in touch with the paper, moves through the channels into the wells.
3. Based on the various chemicals present in the wells different reactions occur when the sample liquid comes in contact with the different wells.
4. As a result of these reactions different colors appear in the wells like red, blue, green etc.
5. A reference key is used to study and interpret the results of the test.
1. The technology is easy to use.
2. The diagnostic tools thus created are cheap.
3. They are ideally suited to be used in areas which are lagging in medical facilities, like the rural areas.
4. The tools used for diagnosis are easily disposable as paper has property of being easily incinerated.
5. The single tool can perform multiple tests thus making it further easier to diagnose.
6. Extremely useful for people who undergo regular tests like blood test. For them it can be an easy and manageable tool to make sure that they are undergoing the tests regularly.
7. Very easily deployable and requires minimum training for new users.
8. The development cost for the future seems to be extremely low. And it is not far away when it can actually become a commodity rather than an innovation and is developed on as large scale as newspapers are printed.
9. No power required.
10. Easy to produce.
The major focus area seems to be the way it should be mass marketed. That would require some initial educating of the potential users of the product, who might range from anybody to everybody. Professor George Whitesides is also working on a diagnostic device to diagnose liver failure.
These technological advances are sure to move only some heads in the developed world where people are already blessed with best in class medical facilities, but it can definitely get more than a glance from people who face consistently inconsistent medical services in their home land. Novice users can also make use of this technology. All they need to do is take the photographs of the device after the test and send it to the centers where doctors and other technical people can test it and send the results back.
The future of paper diagnostics seems to be bright and it carries a lot of promise to solve a major problem of late diagnosis due to improper medical facility. So, the day is not far away when you will find yourself saying “Paper Paper Tell Me Quick! What is Making Me So Weak?”