When the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) held its 2004 annual meeting in Seattle, I read the abstract for a presentation about making diagnoses from saliva. Although I never did make it to the presentation, I remained fascinated by the idea especially as it seemed to promise the end of blood tests and urine samples. Well, the end is not quite in sight yet but a handheld diagnostic device that can make a diagnosis from a single sample of blood, urine, or saliva (!) is being made available to elite UK athletes. From the Dec. 9, 2010 news release,
A new hand-held medical device will help UK athletes reach the top of their game when preparing for upcoming sporting competitions. UK Sport, the UK’s high performance sports agency, has reached an agreement to become the first organisation to use cutting edge technology developed by Argento Diagnostics to improve training programmes for athletes.
Elite athletes will be able to monitor various proteins which reveal details about the condition of the body – known as biomarkers – before, during and after training sessions. These biomarkers can give a clear indication of their physical health and the effectiveness of a particular training programme. Everyone reacts differently to training, so understanding how activities affect the body helps ensure that athletes follow the best programmes for them and avoid injury. This is particularly important for elite level athletes, where small changes in fitness can mean the difference between success and failure.
I’m willing to bet that this initiative has something to do with the 2012 Olympic Summer Games being held in London. Still, I’m more interested in the device itself and how nanotechnology enables it (from the news release),
Argento’s portable device uses nanotechnology to analyse the sample. The sample is mixed with silver nanoparticles coated with a binding unit, an antibody, against a specific biological compound, the biomarker, which is indicative of the condition being tested for. If the biomarker is present the silver nanoparticles will stick to magnetic beads with the biomarkers sandwiched in-between.
Magnets pull these compounds into the measurement zone, where the silver nanoparticles are dislodged off, drawn down to the sensor and measured. The number of nanoparticles measured by the sensor will be directly proportional to the expressed amount of biomarker. The device can therefore quickly analyse the biomarker level and, using a computer programme, summarise it in a meaningful way on an on-screen readout.
I did manage to get some more information about the device from Argento’s company website,
For the first time ever, utilising the Argento technology we will be able to offer fully quantitative analysis of multiple analytes from a single sample in a truly portable handheld device which adds the benefits of modern mobile phone, WiFi and Bluetooth technology to store and communicate the results of the tests to maximise the impact and efficiency of testing.
Unfortunately, I can’t find any information about precisely how the samples are conveyed to the device for diagnostic purposes, i.e., do you spit on it, do you sprinkle it with urine, or do you stab yourself and dip the device into your blood? Yes, I suspect that medical professionals will be drawing blood or scraping your mouth with a Q-tip or getting you to donate a urine sample in the usual way and that somehow this sample is conveyed to the device which will, an unspecified amount of time later, provide a readout. I just wish the people who put together the news release and information materials on the company’s website (BTW, the company is a spin-off from the UK’s National Physical Laboratory) had thought to add these details.
Closer to home, the PROOF (Prevention of Organ Failure) Centre of Excellence, located in Vancouver, Canada, is working on a type of test that could conceivably extend the use of devices such as Argento beyond elite athletes. The PROOF team is working on a test for individuals who have received a transplant. If you get a new organ such as a kidney, a biopsy is required on a monthly basis for diagnostic purposes. The new PROOF test would be much less invasive, much faster and based on biomarkers, just like the tests that can be run on the Argento device. As far as I understand, the team is currently searching for capital to further develop their biomarker tests.