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Ultra-sensitive Point-of-care Diagnostics for Respiratory Infection in Children

Posted October 20, 2015

An ultra-sensitive point-of-care diagnostics device for infectious diseases may soon be available for consumer home use. The device will allow early and fast detection of viral respiratory infections in children, using the paradigm of respiratory syncytial infection (RSV). It is being developed by a European funded consortium (Horizon2020) under a project termed PoC-ID.

Medical officer checks a child for possible upper respiratory infection symptoms. Image credit: United States Marine Corps, Public Domain.

Medical officer checks a child for possible upper respiratory infection symptoms. Image credit: United States Marine Corps, Public Domain.

The project brings together 13 teams from seven countries that are focused on development and transfer of advanced miniaturised point-of-care diagnostics technology to patients. It’s basically an interdisciplinary collaboration of experts from molecular engineering, nanotechnology, microfluidics and microelectronics with medical end-users.

RSV is the leading cause of acute lower respiratory infections (ALRI) in children, and the second biggest cause of death during infancy. It causes around 33.8 million new episodes of ALRI in children annually. Annual RSV-related deaths have been estimated at 253,000, mainly in developing countries, and account for up to 6.7% of the mortality of children aged below one year globally. RSV infection also poses an increased risk of developing childhood wheezing and asthma in later life. Any advance in RSV detection, clinical characterisation and cost reduction for diagnosis and treatment will have a major impact on the healthcare system.

The PoC-ID device combines both host and pathogen biomarkers detection in the same sample. This means a rapid, cheap and accurate diagnosis and prognosis, providing almost real-time results. By multi-parameter analysis of infectious agents and host biomarkers, the sensors will support the medical decision for selection of the best treatment strategy: hospitalisation or send home; empirical antibiotic treatment, supportive care or wait-and-see. The PoC-ID platform may also be used to monitor disease progression and guide the assessment of new therapeutic and prophylactic drugs under development for RSV infection.

The combination of innovative RNA oligonucleotide-based capture molecules (aptamers), generated by molecular engineering, and two novel ultra-sensitive sensing concepts (a biologically active graphene field effect transistor and a sensor-based on microelectromechanical system technology) will contribute to improved performance in terms of robustness, sensitivity and selectivity. Novel carbon nanomembranes will be used as a functionalisation interposer to simplify the binding procedure of the capture molecules onto the biosensor surface.

Bringing graphene and nanomembranes into application will have strong synergetic effects with current nanotechnology development. The integration of sensors, read-out electronics and microfluidics into one user-friendly point-of-care (PoC) platform will further enhance usability and speed of data-analysis. The new disposable sensors will cost very less at high volumes, thanks to designing into microelectronics production flows. All components developed in the project will be designed as multi-purpose modules. That means the PoC platform technology will be adaptable to variety of diagnostic needs.

The addressed point-of-care diagnostics market is growing at a rate of 19 per cent annually, driven by the need for personalised, cost-effective healthcare. The innovative platform technologies developed in the PoC-ID project will support the strong trend to personal healthcare, consumer home-use of medical electronics, and bedside testing and monitoring with the objectives of cost reduction and improvement in quality of life.

Written by Uma Gupta, Contributing author for Technology.Org

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