January 27, 2011
Paper Strips To Do More Medical Tests

Paper strips will perform a wider variety of medical tests.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - Researchers have invented a technique that uses inexpensive paper to make "microfluidic" devices for rapid medical diagnostics and chemical analysis.

The innovation represents a way to enhance commercially available diagnostic devices that use paper-strip assays like those that test for diabetes and pregnancy.

Advances that lower medical testing costs while also provide immediate results without a big lab will accelerate the trend direct-to-consumer medical testing. People will do medical testing at home and more frequently. They'll upload their test results to servers running medical expert systems that will provide diagnostic results and monitor your conditions.

Paper test strips will do more complex chemical assays at lower cost.

"With current systems that use paper test strips you can measure things like pH or blood sugar, but you can't perform more complex chemical assays," said Babak Ziaie, a Purdue University professor of electrical and computer engineering and biomedical engineering. "This new approach offers the potential to extend the inexpensive paper-based systems so that they are able to do more complicated multiple analyses on the same piece of paper. It's a generic platform that can be used for a variety of applications.”

Share |      Randall Parker, 2011 January 27 12:06 AM  Biotech Assay Tools

Chris T said at January 27, 2011 11:24 AM:

People will do medical testing at home and more frequently.

Nah, the medical industry will insist only highly paid professionals are capable of giving and interpreting the results and lobby for regulation.

Pat Burns said at January 28, 2011 11:41 AM:

"upload the test results" ... requires some kind of wireless connection if it is to be reliable and easy to use for consumers. One option: DASH7. Works on flexible substrates, transmits even through wet substances like a piece of test paper as described here, is extremely low cost, and is designed for exactly this type of sensor-based application. more info available at www.dash7.org.

mike said at January 28, 2011 11:58 AM:

In response to Chris T - Contacting patients with test results is time consuming and not compensated. I spend 1-2 hours every day calling patients with lab and x-ray results. I don't think physicians are going to object to shifting 5-8 hours a week of free labor on to someone else.

Micha Elyi said at January 28, 2011 12:08 PM:

Maybe Chris T and Randall are both correct, more at home testing and "highly paid professionals" remain involved. I clicked through the "Monitor Warfarin at Home" Gargoyle ad and soon found this page. There the firm making the test describes "Here’s how easy it is to take the test, and how [the test maker] enables your doctor to receive your results right away" (emphasis added).

Also, the free market topples all Chinese walls (I read something like that somewhere). The end-users of self-testing devices, especially the early adopters, include a lot of "highly paid professionals." Plus, the test makers will eventually almost certainly sell medical establishments equipment to automate (so easy, a cosmetologist can do it, or a 15-year old high school student!) the results collection and advice-giving to the patient. At that point, won't the "highly paid professionals" among the patients see that the jig is up and start a market-pull for putting the entire loop in the hands of the self-testing customers? One way or another the market will find a way to directly serve the end-user.

Voidseeker said at January 28, 2011 1:25 PM:

Sooo, they watched this TED video and ran with the idea?


Not really amazing news.

Randall Parker said at January 28, 2011 8:19 PM:

Chris T,

It is not obvious to me that the regulatory state is going to win on this issue. The freedom to get information about yourself seems like a basic freedom that is easy to argue for. As things stand now you can get lots of medical tests done without seeing a doctor. With home medical testing devices for cholesterol and other blood components the future of home medical testing looks promising.

Sure, the FDA would like to clamp down on home genetic testing. But I think people are getting more used to lots of info easily immediately acquired. Smart phones and the internet make people accustomed to instant results. Restrictions on the flow of information work against the mood of people in an era of broadband.

Micha Elyi,

I think the game changes when hundreds of tests can be done on a blood sample for a low price. You will be able to get data about yourself at frequent intervals, much more frequently than people get those tests done at visits to doctors. The data will get uploaded to a server that tracks your body. The server will raise red flags if the results ever look serious enough to warrant medical consultation.

The server software will be able to advise you on diet and lifestyle.

WJ said at January 29, 2011 7:32 PM:

At home I have a thermometer, a scale, a blood pressure monitor, and a blood sugar monitor (after a recent pointless blood sugar scare). All can be considered medical testing equipment. Total cost was well under $200. All can be considered useful in preventing unneccessary doctors visits (or encouraging necessary ones). They also encourage good behavior.

** "In response to Chris T - Contacting patients with test results is time consuming and not compensated." **

So you're saying you didn't charge for the patient visit or the test? Bollocks. Contacting the patients is part of the cost of the test. Just because they didn't give you their credit card number right before you told them the results doesn't mean they haven't paid.

Upside: testing will get cheaper; doctors' and nurses' time and talent will be better spent elsewhere.

Downside: easier testing leads to more identified medical conditions, requiring more treatment.

Upside: people live longer, healthier lives, and are more productive as a result.

Downside: longer lives means more medical and SS expenditures.

Upside: we can always raise the retirement age, and reduce cost-of-living increases.

Downside: good luck with that.

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