Affordable paper-based home tests for malaria and cancer to be available soon

By: Prateek Chakraborty, intern, Dataquest

In a few years, testing yourself for cancer or malaria could be as easy as testing your blood sugar or taking a home pregnancy test. A time will come, when you no longer have to shell out more money, for availing expensive medical tests, will soon cease to exist.

Chemists at the Ohio State University are developing paper strips that detect diseases such as cancer and malaria for a cost of 50 US cents (roughly Rs. 34) per strip. Researcher Abraham Badu-Tawiah explained – “The idea is that people could apply a drop of blood to the paper at home and mail it to a laboratory on a regular basis and see a doctor only if the test comes out positive. We have found that the tests were accurate even a month after the blood sample was taken, proving they could work for people living in remote areas.”

“Also, we want to empower people. If you care at all about your health and you have reason to worry about a condition, then you don’t want to wait until you get sick to go to the hospital. You could test yourself as often as you want. To get tested, all a person would have to do is put a drop of blood on the paper strip, fold it in half, put it in an envelope and mail it,” he further added.

Reasons and Benefits:
This new patent-pending technology comes as a way to get cheap malaria and other life-threatening diagnoses for the poor folks in rural Africa, South Asia and South-East Asia, who can’t spend a penny on expensive medical treatment, due to insufficient financial conditions. Also, the clinics or the hospitals located may be far off from their homes.

Diseases such as malaria, cancer, cholera, dengue etc. kill hundreds of thousands of people and infect hundreds of millions every year. Badu-Tawiah and his research colleagues have proposed that the test can be tailored to detect any disease for which the human body produces antibodies, including ovarian cancer and cancer of the large intestine.

The technology works differently than other paper-based medical diagnostics like home pregnancy tests, which are coated with enzymes or gold nanoparticles to make the paper change colour. Instead, the paper contains small synthetic chemical probes that carry a positive charge. It is these ionic probes that allow ultra-sensitive detection by a handheld mass spectrometer.

Instead of using regular ink, however, the researchers use wax ink to trace the outline of channels and reservoirs on the paper. The wax penetrates the paper and forms a waterproof barrier to capture the blood sample and keep it between layers. It also prevents spilling of the collected sample, which makes the conducting and testing process easier and in a hygienic way.

One 8.5-by-11-inch sheet of paper can hold dozens of individual tests, which can be further cut apart into minute strips, each a little larger than a postage stamp. The technology resembles today’s ‘lab on a chip’ diagnostics, but instead of using plastic material, the chip is made from sheets of plain white paper, stuck together with two-sided adhesive tape and run through a proper typical ink jet printer.

Furthermore, more tests are being conducted thoroughly by Badu-Tawiah, so that people could eventually use them non-invasively, with saliva or urine as the test material instead of blood. This however, can be expected if the original blood paper strip test would be successful in lesser developed countries of Africa and Asia.

The Ohio University will license the technology to a medical diagnostics company on a trial basis for further development and Badu-Tawiah hopes that the new technological development will be hugely used and would to be able to test the strips in all medical clinics over the world within the next three years.

(Sources – Mashable, Reddit)

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