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Singapore and US scientists develop rapid test for liver toxicity

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Posted September 24, 2015

Scientists from Singapore and United States have invented a kit to test liver toxicity that can provide results in 30 minutes and are working on a prototype that miniaturises a test lab into the size of a needle.

Syringe. Image credit: PhotoLizM, CC0 Public Domain / FAQ

Syringe. Image credit: PhotoLizM, CC0 Public Domain / FAQ

This “lab-in-a-needle” device can provide instant results on the health of a liver.

This new medical device will be effective, for example, in quickly detecting liver toxicity, a common side effect of chemotherapy.

The compact kit can take patient samples, prepare them for testing, evaluate toxicity and display the results in one simple process.

Current tests entail multiple steps and results could take several days. Through this new kit, results for toxicity can be obtained in 30 minutes, allowing doctors to immediately discuss treatment options with patients.

This new device offers the convenience of diagnostic testing outside of a clinical setting, such as at home or in the field.

It is the brainchild of a joint research team from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore), A*STAR Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) and the Houston Methodist Hospital Research Institute (affiliated with Cornell University) in the United States.

This invention and its effectiveness are explained in the recent issue of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Lab on a Chip, a prestigious scientific journal.

NTU Professor Joseph Chang, who is involved in the design and construction of the prototype, said, “What our prototype shows is that samples can be prepared and analysed through it, eliminating the need for wet laboratory work and manpower.

“Our new method significantly reduces time, manpower and costs and yet has the same accurate results as the gold standards of current liver toxicity tests,” added Prof Chang, who is also the Director of VIRTUS Centre of Excellence in Integrated Circuit Design at NTU’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

Dr Stephen T.C. Wong, Chair of the Department of Systems Medicine and Bioengineering at Houston Methodist Research Institute, said, “We used the concept of lab on a chip, which compresses the entire function of a laboratory diagnostic test onto a tiny microfluidics chip, to create a lab in a needle.” Dr Wong is a professor of radiology, neuroscience, pathology and laboratory medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University.

Dr Wang Zhiping, Director of Research Programmes at A*STAR SIMTech, said, “Our goal is to integrate sample acquisition and preparation into one device, a significant challenge that has slowed the development of point-of-care testing.”
How it works

The “lab-in-a-needle” test kit has two key components: a microfluidic chip that extracts and cleans the required test sample from the blood, while the second chip runs the various tests on the purified blood sample.

The team successfully proved that their lab-in-a-needle approach was accurate in experiments using today’s most sensitive and widely used bio-markers to detect liver toxicity.
Next step – developing a miniaturised test kit

“Our next steps are to integrate the sample preparation and analysis chips into a miniaturised device to create the first full prototype of the lab-in-a-needle,” said Dr Wang.

“A*STAR SIMTech will tap on its manufacturing process capabilities to develop the lab-in-a-needle device cost effectively and can be scaled up for mass production. This will enable the mobile technology to be expanded to test for a number of health conditions in outpatient settings or outside hospitals,” added the principal scientist in microfluidics.

Source: Nanyang Technological University

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