Soon, a simple drop of blood and a few minutes may be all that is needed to determine if someone has a disease, thanks to two researchers at the University of Tennessee who have developed a portable device that detects pathogens in humans and animals.
Jayne Wu, associate professor of computer science and electrical engineering, and Shigetoshi Eda, associate professor of forestry, wildlife and fisheries at the UT Institute of Agriculture Center for Wildlife Health, have been collaborating on the project for about two years, according to Eda.
The device has been able to successfully detect tuberculosis in people and animals, as well as Johne's disease in cattle.
A small blood sample is placed on a disposable test cartridge made up of an array of electrodes that have been treated with disease-specific antigens. These antigens, which produce a response from the body's immune system, allow the type of disease contained within the sample to be identified -- in as little as two minutes, Wu says.
"The novelty here is short detection time. Here, it is minutes and, usually, it is a few hours," said Wu.
While the conventional test may take one or more hours, that does not include the time it takes to transport samples to a lab, according to Eda, who said that it is not uncommon for test results to take about a week to return.
"Early detection is important to take action to prevent those diseases," Eda said.
Eda has been researching bovine tuberculosis since 2003 and said that this device could help safeguard the nation's food and milk supply by finding infected animals quickly.
The low-cost device has a wide range of possible applications on the battlefield, in developing countries or wherever there is no immediate access to medical resources, according to Wu.
Wu also discussed the use of the device within hospitals by making tests required for lifesaving surgeries faster.
Organs waiting to be transplanted could be tested quickly instead of being frozen for hours awaiting test results from the lab.
"Medical doctors doing transplants are very excited," Wu said.
According to university officials, the researchers have recently been awarded $15,000 from the UT Research Foundation to continue developing their technology for licensing within the commercial market.
(Contact Aaron Osborne of The Knoxville News Sentinel in Tennessee at www.knoxnews.com)