Univerity of Texas scientists have developed a faster, cheaper biosensor that aids in the detection of acute pancreatitis.
The sensor, which could be produced for as little as a dollar, could help prevent damage from acute pancreatitis- a sudden inflammation of the pancreas that can lead to severe stomach pain, nausea, fever, shock and in some cases, death.
It is built with a 12-cent LED light, aluminum foil, gelatin, milk protein and a few other cheap, easily obtainable materials.
"We've turned Reynold's Wrap, JELL-O and milk into a way to look for organ failure," said Brian Zaccheo, a graduate student in the lab of Richard Crooks, professor of chemistry and biochemistry.
The sensor, which is about the size of a matchbox, relies on a simple two-step process to diagnose the disease.
In step one, a bit of blood extract is dropped onto a layer of gelatin and milk protein. If there are high levels of trypsin, an enzyme that is overabundant in the blood of patients with acute pancreatitis, the trypsin will break down the gelatin in much the same way it breaks down proteins in the stomach.
In step two, a drop of sodium hydroxide (lye) is added. If the trypsin levels were high enough to break down that first barrier, the sodium hydroxide can trickle down to the second barrier, a strip of Reynold's wrap, and go to work dissolving it.
The foil corrodes, and with both barriers now permeable, a circuit is able to form between a magnesium anode and an iron salt at the cathode. Enough current is generated to light up a red LED. If the LED lights up within an hour, acute pancreatitis is diagnosed.
"In essence, the device is a battery having a trypsin-selective switch that closes the circuit between the anode and cathode," wrote Zaccheo and Crooks.
The discovery was published in Analytical Chemistry.