Innovation That Matters

The kit is designed to allow pooled testing – saving materials and time | Photo source Kiarash Sabet/UCLA

A handheld kit provides accessible diagnoses for future pandemics

Health & Wellbeing

A newly designed testing kit could make it easier and cheaper to test for diseases even far away from medical labs

Spotted: As the world discovered during the Covid pandemic, timely and affordable diagnosis is vital to preventing disease outbreaks. However, this is not always possible, especially in remote areas or places far from medical laboratories. Now, a research team at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) has developed a technology that could significantly increase the speed and volume of disease testing, while reducing the costs and usage of scarce supplies.

The automated tests were developed by a team at UCLA’s Samueli School of Engineering. The portable kit features a circuit board which controls a set of movable, 1-millimetre-sized magnetic discs known as ‘ferrobots’. The ferrobot discs transport the samples “through the diagnostic workflow” of a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT). The NAAT is used to detect the presence of a virus.

All of the steps necessary to the NAAT are automated and performed on a microfluidic chip inside the kit which is, essentially, a minitiarised lab. The kit is also optimised for pooled testing, wherein dozens of samples can be tested at the same time using the same number of materials as one test, making the tests more affordable.

Co-author of the study professor Di Carlo explained that, “Our handheld lab technology could help overcome some of the barriers of scarcity and access to tests, especially early in a pandemic, when it is most crucial to control disease spread.”

As medical diagnosis progresses, it also accents the disparity between areas with easy access to medical testing and those without. There are several innovations seeking to provide equal access to healthcare, including a portable device that uses infrared light to detect malaria, and a low-cost diagnostic equipment for epilepsy.

Written By: Lisa Magloff


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