George Washington University scientist shows off two potentially life-saving inventions: a medical 'tricorder' and flexible ring that can deliver rapid diagnostic testing. Vanessa Johnston reports.
Waiting for lab results - and a diagnosis - can be a matter of life and death. That's why researchers at George Washington University in Washington, DC, have designed two devices they hope will bring the lab to the individual. Cutting time, cutting costs, and saving lives… Like this medical tricorder, designed by Dr. Zhenyu Li, assistant professor of biomedical engineering. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. ZHENYU LI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "Right now I think sophisticated lab testing is centralized still. You need to go to a phlebotomist to get a milliliter volume of blood and then the blood sample will be sent to a clinical lab. So really you need to wait for days and it costs more money and more samples, blood samples, and it's not accessible at convenient places." But THIS handheld device, using advanced microfluidic technology, manages to fit a complex liquid network onto a tiny chip, able to test blood, urine, and saliva samples… …and deliver results quickly via a smart phone app. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. ZHENYU LI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "You can get the results at least within hours if not minutes." So who could benefit? Many, says Zhenyu, but especially those with time-senstive conditions. For example, those prone to heart attacks could keep the tricorder on hand to test for levels of cardiac Tropinin I in the blood. A high amount would signal a need for immediate treatment. It could also be used to test for infectious diseases. But the tricorder is not the only way Li has imagined decentralizing lab testing. The other comes in the form of a piece of jewellery: a flexible ring that can perform electrocardiograms, or ECGs, on demand. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DR. ZHENYU LI, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF BIOMEDICAL ENGINEERING AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "Of course there are people that are not comfortable, don't like this kind of putting censors on their body, but for people who have chronic conditions, who are sometimes at risk of, for example, heart attacks, this type of advice could be useful and life-saving." While there are several issues to work out before these devices hit the market...Zhenyu hopes to see them in patients' hands in the next few years.