UCLA researchers have developed technology that could dramatically increase the speed and volume of disease testing, while reducing cost and the use of scarce supplies.
Inspired by the challenges many people faced when trying to access Covid-19 testing, UCLA scientists developed a device that serves as an all-in-one lab kit for quick and efficient diagnostics. .
Using pinhead-sized swarms of magnets inside a handheld device, automated tests can be easily manufactured, deployed, and performed in a doctor’s office, health clinic, or on mass testing sites at airports and schools at the onset of any major infectious disease.
The technology, described in the newspaper Naturecould help authorities better prepare for future pandemics by decentralizing testing and maximizing the use of resources.
The researchers tested their device in a clinical study with test samples from people who showed symptoms of Covid-19. More than 100 test results using the lab kit were compared to the same samples tested for Covid-19 using polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based molecular diagnostics performed as part of routine clinical care. UCLA Health.
“Our wearable lab technology could help overcome some of the barriers of scarcity and access to testing, particularly at the start of a pandemic, when controlling the spread of disease is most critical,” said said Associate Professor Sam Emaminejad, co-author of the study.
“Beyond its potential to address shortage and high demand issues, it could be widely adapted to test many types of diseases in the field and with laboratory quality.”
Using a circuit board that controls an array of moving 1mm magnetic disks called “ferrobots” to transport samples through the diagnostic workflow of a Nucleic Acid Amplification Test (NAAT) , the researchers’ ultra-sensitive lab kit was able to successfully detect the presence of genetic material of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
The steps to separate, sort, mix and amplify test samples have all been automated and performed at a miniaturized level inside the kit.
“This platform’s compact design and automated sample handling allow for easy batch testing implementations where you can test dozens of patient samples at the same time, all with the same materials it currently takes to test a single patient,” said the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. Professor Dino DiCarlo.
“For example, you can test students in an entire dorm with just a few dozen test kits.”
By designing the kit for bulk testing, the system requires much lower amounts of chemical reagents than needed to test samples individually. Additionally, with the technology’s test miniaturization and pooled testing capabilities, chemical reagent costs could be reduced by 10 to 300 times.
In addition to being able to test multiple diseases simultaneously, the platform also offers precise and robust automation. For example, in a batch test with 16 samples, more than 300 laboratory operations, including mixing and sorting, were automated by the ferrobots – more than 3,000 individual movements or actuations.
In their reliability studies, the researchers showed that ferrobots could perform more than eight million actuations without error.
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