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Scientists develop ‘Star Trek’-inspired medical diagnostic device

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University of Glasgow researchers in the UK have developed a device that will help medics make quick and accurate diagnosis of a patient, not far off from the Star Trek’s famous ‘tricorder’.

The device pairs a handheld sensor with a smartphone app to measure levels of various molecules in fluid samples from patients. These molecules, known as “metabolites”, depending on their abundance indicate the general heath or progression of specific diseases.

The ability to rapidly detect and quantify multiple metabolite biomarkers away from the lab makes this device particularly useful in cases of heart attack, cancer and stroke, where rapid diagnosis is vital for effective treatment. While metabolites can currently be measured by processes such as nuclear magnetic resonance and hyphenated mass spectrometry techniques, both approaches are expensive and require bulky equipment, which slow down the diagnostic results.

The device’s CMOS-based chip is divided into multiple reaction zones to detect and quantify different metabolites simultaneously from body fluids such as serum. The device can be operated via any Android-based tablet or smartphone.

“Handheld, inexpensive diagnostic devices capable of accurately measuring metabolites open up a wide range of applications for medicine, and this latest development is an important step closer to bringing such a device to market,” said Professor David Cumming, Principal Investigator of the project from Glasgow University’s School of Engineering.

The project was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

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