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Bioengineering design makes health diagnosis simpler

Arizona State University researchers have demonstrated a way to simplify testing patients for infectious diseases and unhealthy protein levels.

New testing instrumentation developed by Antonia Garcia and John Schneider promises to make the procedure less costly and produce results in less time.

Current testing is slow and expensive because of the complications of working with blood, saliva, urine, and other biological fluids, said Garcia, a professor in the School of Biological and Health Systems Engineering, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Such samples “are complex mixtures that require sophisticated instruments capable of mixing a sample with antibodies or other biological reactants to produce an accurate positive or negative reaction,” Garcia said.

He and Schneider, a bioengineering graduate student researcher, have come up with a testing method that enables the patient sample itself to act in concert with a rudimentary, low-cost testing device.

The method uses common light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and simple microeletronic amplifiers rather than more technologically intensive and costly lasers and robotics.

Fluids and light working together
Garcia and Schneider have demonstrated that superhydrophobic surfaces can shape blood, saliva, urine, and other fluids into round drops. The drops can focus light and quickly mix and move microparticles and nanopartices that can be examined to reveal a specific infectious agent or protein.

Superhydrophobicity is a property of materials that repel water, such as ducks’ feather or leaves of the lotus plant. Such materials are used commercially in textiles, building materials and surface coatings.

The new device operates by placing a drop of nanoparticles or microparticles on top of a drop of a patient fluid sample on a superhydrophobic surface. The surface has a small depression that holds the liquid sample in place so that it forms a spherical drop.

The drop acts as a lens due to surface tension. An LED is shined on the drop and the drop shape focuses the light into an intense beam measured by a second LED.

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