Scientists say they have developed a Star Trek-inspired hand-held device, based on a silicon chip, that could help make rapid, sophisticated medical diagnostics more accessible to people around the world. The ‘multicorder’ created by researchers from the University of Glasgow in the UK takes inspiration from the science fiction franchise Star Trek’s famous tricorder device, which the show’s medics use to make quick and accurate diagnoses.
Described in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics, the new device pairs a hand-held sensor with a smartphone app to measure the levels of various metabolites in fluid samples from patients.
Metabolites are small molecules found in fluids from the human body. By measuring and monitoring their relative abundance, scientists can keep track of general health or the progression of specific diseases.
The ability to rapidly detect and quantify multiple metabolite biomarkers simultaneously makes this device particularly useful in cases of heart attack, cancer, and stroke, where rapid diagnosis is vital for effective treatment, researchers said.
While metabolites can currently be measured by existing processes such as nuclear magnetic resonance and hyphenated mass spectrometry techniques, both approaches are expensive and require bulky equipment which can be slow to offer diagnostic results.
The new device is built around a new form of complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) chip. CMOS chips are inexpensive to produce and are often used in imaging devices, researchers said.
The chip is smaller than a fingertip and is divided into multiple reaction zones to detect and quantify four metabolites simultaneously from the body fluid such as serum or urine, they said.
The device can be operated via any Android-based tablet or smartphone which provides data acquisition, computation, visualization, and power.
“We have been able to detect and measure multiple metabolites associated with myocardial infarction, or heart attack, and prostate cancer simultaneously using this device,” said Samadhan Patil from the University of Glasgow.
“This device has potential to track the progression of the disease in its early phase and is ideally suited for the subsequent prognosis,” Patil said.
“Handheld, inexpensive diagnostic devices capable of accurately measuring metabolites open up a wide range of applications for medicine, and with this latest development we’ve taken an important step closer to bringing such a device to market,” said Professor David Cumming from Glasgow University.
“It’s an exciting breakthrough and we are keen to continue building on the technology we have developed so far,” said Cumming.