Making Blood Tests Affordable

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Researchers from IIT Kharagpur have developed an ultra-low-cost diagnostic device which can perform various pathological tests by using a tiny drop of blood taken from a finger-prick. The team led by Professor Suman Chakraborty from the Dept. of Mechanical Engineering at IIT Kharagpur has adopted this detection method which is virtually instrument-free and requires only a paper strip based kit integrated with a smartphone to enable analytics and readout functions and an LED light for imaging.

The key aspect of the device which has been addressed by Prof. Chakraborty is the operational simplicity of the device and extremely low running cost. The technology, process and limited use of consumables have significantly brought down the cost of each blood test. While under laboratory conditions each test cost Rs. 1 or even less, the cost is expected to marginally vary in case of commercialized product.

On the operational front, the device requires a single drop of finger-prick blood and a drop of reagent on the paper-based reaction chamber. The device is designed to harness the flow of blood from an input source pad to a reaction pad for the diagnosis. This happens by means of capillary action through tiny channels on printed on the paper strip. The reaction is manifested in the form of change in the colour that corresponds to the quantification of blood parameters such as glucose and haemoglobin.

“Compared to other reported portable devices for haemoglobin estimation, this device is implementable without any trained personnel at resource-limited settings and provides quantitative results comparable to the pathological results,” confirmed Prof. Suman Chakraborty.

Despite its simplicity and low cost, the device has been bundled with efficiency parameters which would prove utterly significant to assess public health status. Among these is blood haemoglobin level estimation for a large range of haemoglobin concentration (3.5 g/dL to 19 g/dL with sensitivity 0.1 g/dL) which is critical to maternal and child health assessment. It can also report plasma glucose directly unlike most other available portable devices which statistically estimate glucose from the whole blood. Notably, medical treatment guidelines are based on plasma glucose and not on the whole blood glucose. The designing of the device will further enable it to detect diseases which produces colour signals in a body fluid such as blood, urine, saliva.

A transfer of this unique technology for upscaling and commercialization has already been agreed upon confirmed.

“Those days are not far away when such disruptive technology-driven unique innovations in public health will bring in new hopes to millions of poor and deprived people in the underprivileged world,” opined Prof. Suman Chakraborty.

Extensive validation tests have been conducted for blood glucose and haemoglobin at laboratories as well as in the field, both in clinical environment and villages with limited clinical facilities.

“We have tested it at extreme challenging environments with uncontrolled dirt, dust and humidity, and in the absence of structured clinics or air-conditioned pathological laboratories to work,” said Dr. Satadal Saha, FRCS, medical entrepreneur, and also a Visiting Professor at the School of Medical Science and Technology of IIT Kharagpur who along with Prof. Chakraborty led the joint team for fieldwork.

The background research work has been supported by the Royal Academy of Engineering, United Kingdom, Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, Govt. of India, Department of Electronics and IT, Govt. of India, Department of Science and Technology, Govt. of India, Indian Council of Medical Research and Ministry of Human Resources Development, Govt. of India through the IMPRINT India initiative, in various stages.

By Shreyoshi Ghosh

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