Tel Aviv University researchers have created an electrode-based tiny device which they liken to the sensitive seismographs that pick up tremors of impending earthquakes long before they strike.
Prof. Judith Rishpon, of TAU's Department of Molecular Microbiology and Biotechnology, says that the novel device can quickly and precisely detect pathogens and pollution in the environment, and infinitesimally small amounts of disease biomarkers in blood.
She says that the new invention, about the size of a stick of gum, may be applied to a wide range of environments and situations.
The aim is for the device to be disposable and cost about one dollar.
"Biosensors are important for the bio-terror industry, but are also critical for detecting pathogens in water, for the food industry, and in medical diagnostics," says Prof. Rishpon.
She says that this invention particularly appealing because of its small size, and the fact that it can be easily connected to a handheld device like a Blackberry or iPhone for quick and reliable results.
An electrical signal will pulse "yes" for the presence of a test molecule, and a "no" for its absence.
Currently, clinical researchers are testing its application in cancer diagnostics, focusing on the detection of proteins associated with colon and brain cancer and efficacy of anticancer drugs.
Prof. Rishpon, however, insists that the device is capable of detecting various types of substances.
"It really depends on what you put at the end of the electrode," she says.
"You can put enzymes, antibodies or bacteria on my electrodes to sense the existence of a chemical target. Then we can measure the amount of the target, assessing its potency by using additional enzymes or by looking at the changes of the electrochemical properties on the device," she adds.
Since the device can also detect enzymes released before the onset of a heart attack, Prof. Rishpon says that it has obvious uses in an operating room to give a physician warning of an impending attack during a procedure.
The researcher further says that the device can be fitted into an implant like a pacemaker or another future device to alert the user to impending dangers, thus preventing sudden death.
Prof. Rishpon is also investigating the application of her technology to detect for pathogens in drinking water such as oestrogen, a by-product of the female birth control pill.
According to her, detecting pesticides in food is another very desirable application.
Commercial applications of Prof. Rishpon's basic research are already underway in many areas of diagnostics, but clearly there are more to come.
"My super sensors are cheap, accurate and highly sensitive, and in principle they could detect and measure the presence of almost every biological-based material," Dr. Rishpon concludes.
Her research has appeared in the journals Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology Biology and Medicine, Electroanalysis and Bioelectrochemistry.