Microsponges derived from seaweed may help diagnose heart disease, cancers, HIV and other diseases quickly and at far lower cost than current clinical methods, says a new study.
The microsponges are an essential component of Rice University's Programmable Bio-Nano-Chip (PBNC).
The study by John McDevitt, the Brown-Wiess Professor in Bioengineering and Chemistry, and his colleagues at Rice's BioScience Research Collaborative views the inner workings of PBNCs, which McDevitt envisions as a mainstream medical diagnostic tool.
PBNCs to diagnose a variety of diseases are currently the focus of six human clinical trials.
PBNCs capture biomarkers - molecules that offer information about a person's health -found in blood, saliva and other bodily fluids. The biomarkers are sequestered in tiny sponges set into an array of inverted pyramid-shaped funnels in the microprocessor heart of the credit card-sized PBNC.
When a fluid sample is put into the disposable device, microfluidic channels direct it to the sponges, which are infused with antibodies that detect and capture specific biomarkers.
Once captured, they can be analyzed within minutes with a sophisticated microscope and computer built into a portable, toaster-sized reader.
The microsponges are 280-micrometer beads of agarose, a cheap, common, lab-friendly material derived from seaweed and often used as a matrix for growing live cells or capturing proteins.
The study appeared in the journal Small.