Thanks to advances in nanotechnology, the future diagnosis of disease may be as simple as using a small, inexpensive, handheld gadget
In many parts of the third world, the treatment of disease is not just a fundamentally difficult issue because of a lack of disease treatment facilities available, but also because of the expense in providing proper diagnosis in the first place. However the field of medical diagnosis might be about to change, if an invention by two Standford doctoral students takes off.
The easy-to-dispense technology is the brain child of Richard Gaster and Drew Hall, two men with experience in the medical and engineering fields, who combined to create the veritable 'lab-on-a-stick'.
At a New York based collegiate inventors competition in June, the duo walked away with the top prize and $10,000 in cash for their work on the nanotechnology based lab .
The 'Nanolab is about the size of a paperback novel and works by detecting disease proteins found in blood, urine or saliva samples - which are placed into a small well from a pipette.
It then becomes the job of the nanosensors to detect the different proteins present in the sample. A series of blue, red and green lights will display depending on the sequence and the specific disease found.
Antibodies and price
The actual nanosensors need a helping hand though. To do their job effectively and remain accurate, they require a certain amount of 'disease antibodies' to help discern which virus is which; a process naturally found in our own bodies and likely, one of the drawbacks of this type of technology - cost.
Purchasing disease antibodies isn't cheap, nor does it fulfil the goals of being portable and avaliable to impoverished communities worldwide: newer virus groups and disease antibody markers need to be purchased and shipped from specialist labs.
A quick search at an antibodies mechant called Cytoshop reveals that an ordinary 1mg vial (mADengue type 2) of the tropical bourne dengue fever carried by mosquitos, retails for $250 - and that isn't much to work with, considering that's just for one antibody. A more detailed price list can be found here.
This lab is unique though, because of its 'quantitative multiplex protein detection' - a faculty that provides the detection kit with the ability to diagnose multiple diseases at once.
Training for future diagnosis
The Nanolab needs no specialist training or medical understanding, beyond understanding the protein signifiers, a process that Hall and Gaster maintain can be taught quickly to just about anyone. It's hoped that the tool eventually proves to be the perfect rural diagnosis lab for those areas that can't get reliable or convenient hospital access.
The official Standford University page has more information.