2012 seems to be continuing a trend that 2011 enjoyed, the race to develop diagnostics-on-a-chip (aka handheld diagnostics or point-of-care diagnostics). The latest story is from Tannara Yelland for Canadian University Press in a Jan. 3, 2012 article titled, Where nanotechnology and medicine meet; University of Alberta researcher shrinks medical tests, makes them more affordable,
Researchers have made great strides in diagnostic tools for detecting the genetic abnormalities that lead to or signal cancers, but many of these remain solely the province of experimental labs because of practical impediments like the cost of equipment.
Aiming specifically to make clinical medicine easier and less expensive to conduct, Pilarski [Linda Pilarski, a University of Alberta oncology professor and Canada Research Chair in Biomedical Nanotechnology] and her team have created a microfluidic chip about the size of a thumbnail that can test for up to 80 different genetic markers of cancer.
“Most of the things we were doing were much too complicated to do in a clinical lab,” Pilarski said. “Their technology has to be far more regulated than what we’re doing in the lab. It may be feasible [to use current experimental tests] in a big research hospital, but not in Stony Plains [Alberta], in our little health care centre, for example.
“And with tests that are feasible, they’re feasible only because they study many samples at once.”
… They have reversed the normal procedure, studying several samples for one disease, in the hopes of making tests easier to do in more remote locations.
There are about 80 small posts attached to a glass chip, and each post carries out a different test for a different mutation. Unlike the currently used larger equipment, Pilarski says these chips should allow clinicians to perform the tests within an hour, and rather than make patients wait a nerve-wracking few days for their results, they can find out before they leave the lab.
While Pilarski’s work has focused on cancer, the chip she has developed could be used to test for any number of illnesses, which is precisely what medical equipment company Aquila Diagnostics plans to do with Pilarski’s technology.
“Some of the first things to come out might not be for cancer but for infectious diseases,” Pilarski said.
My most recent posting on handheld diagnostic tools, Dec. 22, 2011, noted the Grand Challenges grants (from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and from the Canadian not-for-profit agency called Grand Challenges) awarded to researchers working on the problem of diagnosing infectious diseases in the developing world. From the posting,
The grants announced today are part of the Point-of-Care Diagnostics (POC Dx) Initiative [of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation], a research and development program with the goal of creating new diagnostic platforms that enable high-quality, low-cost diagnosis of disease, and also facilitate sustainable markets for diagnostic products, a key challenge in the developing world. This first phase of the POC Dx Initiative is focused on developing new technologies and identifying implementation issues to address the key barriers for clinical diagnostics in the developing world.
Getting back to Pilarski and the Alberta initiative, the company mentioned in the article, Aquila Diagnostics is based in Edmonton, Alberta and is associated with the University of Alberta. From the company website home page,
Aquila is a medical device company focused on point-of-care diagnosis testing for blood borne infectious diseases and cancer. The Company is developing a portable diagnostic system that delivers rapid, low-cost, multiparameter tests without the need for highly-skilled operators. Aquila’s gel post PCR technology is protected and under licence from the University of Alberta.
I look forward to hearing more about these initiatives as they get closer to market.