Image: An artist’s rendition of microparticles flowing through a channel and passing through electric fields, where they are detected electronically and barcode-scanned (Photo courtesy of Ella Marushchenko and Alexander Tokarev, Ella Maru Studios).
Research engineers have invented a technology for nanoelectronic barcoding of microparticles that could be used in wearable or hand-held devices to analyze body fluids, such as sweat or blood, for various biomarkers or pollutants simultaneously.
The team, led by Mehdi Javanmard, assistant professor at Rutgers University-New Brunswick (New Brunswick, NJ), invented the biosensor technology to better monitor health and exposure to pathogenic microorganisms as well as to pollutants.
“This is really important in the context of personalized medicine or personalized health monitoring,” said Prof. Javanmard, “Our technology enables true labs on chips. We’re talking about platforms the size of a USB flash drive or something that can be integrated [into a fitness watch].”
In recent decades, research on biomarkers has revealed the complex nature of the molecular mechanisms behind human disease. That has heightened the importance of testing bodily fluids for numerous biomarkers simultaneously, the authors said.
“One biomarker is often insufficient to pinpoint a specific disease because of the heterogeneous nature of various types of diseases,” said Prof. Javanmard, “To get an accurate diagnosis and accurate management of various health conditions, you need to be able to analyze multiple biomarkers at the same time.”
Bulky optical instruments are the state-of-the-art technology for detecting and measuring biomarkers, but are too large to add to a portable device. Electronic detection of microparticles allows for ultra-compact instruments needed for wearable devices. The researchers’ technique for barcoding particles to identify them is, for the first time, fully electronic, allowing biosensors to be shrunk to the size of a wearable band or a microchip, the authors said.
The technology was greater than 95% accurate in identifying tested biomarkers, and fine-tuning is underway to make it 100% accurate, said Prof. Javanmard. The team is also working on portable detection of microrganisms, including pathogenic bacteria and viruses. “Imagine a small tool that could analyze a swab sample of what’s on the doorknob of a bathroom or front door and detect influenza or a wide array of other virus particles,” he said, “Imagine ordering a salad at a restaurant and testing it for E. coli or Salmonella bacteria.” This form of the tool could be commercially available within about two years, while health monitoring and diagnostic tools could be available within about five years, he said.
The study, by Xie P et al, was published April 28, 2017, in the journal Lab on a Chip.
Rutgers University-New Brunswick