The first lab-in-a-briefcase has been developed to boost cancer detection rates in developing countries.
Loughborough University is trying to develop a portable lab-in-a-briefcase that is able to operate at high temperatures, that serves to boost early detection rates of cancer especially in developing countries, where there is usually not enough technology to support a full laboratory.
The lab-in-a-briefcase seems to be the first of its kind when talking about the portable measurement of cancer biomarkers, and this idea was conceptualized by Dr. Nuno Reis who is a lecturer of Chemical Engineering in Loughborough University. The whole concept has been published in the journal Lab on a Chip.
A Convenient Idea
In developing countries, the number of patients afflicted with cancer has been steadily on the rise, partially due to the ageing populations, but also because there is a lack of proper diagnostic equipment. According to the WHO World Cancer Report for the year 2014, cancer is known to be one of the leading causes of death worldwide, claiming over 8 million lives per year, and around 70% of these deaths occur in Africa, Asia, Central and South America. These cases are expected to rise by 70% in the next 20 years.
Dr. Reis has been working with his research associate Ana Isabel Barbosa in creating the lab-in-a-briefcase. It consists of four components: a manually driven multi-syringe device capable of doing up to 80 tests from whole blood samples, at the same time; microwell plates already loaded with reagents for the assays; a portable USB-powered film scanner to take images of the strips; and a portable computer for real-time analysis of the data.
The whole thing can just be packed inside a briefcase, handbag or laptop case, and also just requires one person to operate it. This operator only needs minimal training, and the test is done in around 15 minutes, and does not need other equipment.
The most important characteristic of this tool is that it uses only whole blood, and the sample does not need any special preparation. This was the most important factor when it comes to testing outside the laboratory.
This kit employs the use of a new, affordable and disposable microfluidic test strip, and is equipped to measure the levels of different kinds of cancer biomarkers in a whole blood sample. This technology actually operates similarly to pregnancy tests, which was also taken advantage of Dr. Reis in another study where he used a smartphone camera to detect prostate cancer.
Dr. Reis says that “Our lab-in-a-briefcase is both inexpensive and simple to use; it means that high precision diagnostic kits, complete with clinical laboratory equipment, can be made accessible to remote populations, and this is what makes it a truly-life changing concept for the screening and monitoring of different types of cancer”.
Dr. Reis also believes that this kit will also make a big difference, improving the quality and detection of cancer especially in developing countries where there is limited access to early detection techniques. He also believes that the lab-in-a-briefcase could be further improved to not just detect cancer, but also infectious disease and allergens.
The study was supported by Capillary Film Technology Ltd, which is a UK SME that develops affordable microfluidic fluoropolymer film for use in the life sciences and clinical diagnostics.
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Written by : Yevgeny Aster Dulla, MSc