Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Tech Diagnostics Help Rural Areas

The “Extractionator" device could bring high tech medical diagnostics to rural areas according to information posted at Vanderbilt University. The prototype could be the basis of an easy-to-use low-cost sample collection and preparation system that could help bring medical diagnostic testing to people in poor rural areas in the world.

The research and development on the device to be performed at Vanderbilt was funded with $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The researcher’s ultimate goal is to make sample collection and preparation so simple that it can be operated properly with people with little training and can be easily integrated with the other detection methods under development by other grantees.

The device consists of a length of clear plastic tubing filled with a series of liquid chambers separated by short lengths of air. At one end, the tube also contains a number of tiny magnetic beads.

The prototype works something like a miniature car wash. When a patient sample is introduced into the end of the tube, the operator of the device uses an external magnet first to coat the beads with the target material. The beads have special coatings that bind with the specific biological molecules needed for a given diagnostic test.

At this point, the operator drags the beads through the air spaces into the subsequent chambers. Each of the sequential chambers contains special chemicals that remove molecules that interfere with the accuracy of the test. As a result, when the beads reach the other end of the tube, they carry a purified and concentrated sample of the sort required for testing.

Researchers have explored how the system works with biomarkers for the RSV respiratory virus and for malaria and have found the system effective. They evaluated the extraction and concentration of the RSV biomarker in great detail and found that the “Extractionator” works as well as the commercial lab-based kits that are currently available.

The principal investigators on the “Extractionator” project include biomedical engineer Rick Haselton, biochemist Ray Mernaugh, and Chemist David Wright. For more information, email David Salisbury at