The past few years have seen a number of attempts to shrink lab type facilities to make them portable. For instance, earlier this year a study was published that explored a chip based facility for analysing blood and other fluids.
Not only does the device require fewer fluids, it also requires roughly 10 percent of the chemicals used to perform multiplex immunoassay tests. These tests traditionally cost up to $1,500, so the potential savings are considerable, especially as the process is largely automated, so reduces the need for skilled labour.
A lab in a briefcase
That device was aimed primarily at central nervous system disorders, but researchers at Loughborough have been working on a brief case sized lab to help provide earlier detection of cancer in developing countries.
Cancer is on the rise in the developing world, due in large part to the changing demographics of the population, but also as a consequence of limited diagnostic tools. Over 5 million people are believed to die from cancer each year in the developing world, with the number of new cases predicted to increase by 70% in the next 20 years.
The research team, led by Dr Nuno Reis, have developed a unique solution for testing in remote areas that lack access to a full-scale laboratory. The device consists of four key components:
- a manually operated multi-syringe that can perform up to 80 tests simultaneously from a single blood sample
- a USB powered film scanner to capture images of the test stripe
- a portable computer for live data analysis
- microwell places that are pre-loaded with assay reagents
The entire lab is small enough to fit into a small briefcase/laptop case sized bag and can be operated by a single person with minimal training. The test itself can be conducted within 15 minutes.
Dr Reis said: “Our lab-in-a-briefcase is both inexpensive and simple to use; it means that high precision diagnostic kits, complete with clinical laboratory equipment, can be made accessible to remote populations, and this is what makes it a truly life-changing concept for the screening and monitoring of different types of cancer.
“This portable lab can really make a difference, boosting levels of cancer detection in developing countries where ordinarily people would not have such easy access to early diagnostics. I envisage that our lab-in-a-briefcase could also be developed further in the future to allow for rapid testing of infectious diseases and allergens.”
The work was undertaken in conjunction with Capillary Film Technology Ltd, a UK company who develop low-cost microfluidic fluoropolymer film for the life sciences sector.
Whilst the test was originally focused upon prostate cancer, the team believe it is robust enough to work effectively for several types of cancer diagnostics, all from the same blood sample.
If you would like to learn more about working with Loughborough University, contact our enterprise office, or alternatively view the video below for more information on the project.