UBC engineers develop biochem point-of-care lab for smartphones

Your smartphone could soon become a handheld chemistry and biochemistry laboratory

  • Jan. 20, 2015 9:00 a.m.

Your smartphone could soon become a handheld chemistry and biochemistry laboratory capable of detecting evidence of chronic health conditions, infectious diseases, chemical weapons and biohazards.

Engineers at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus have developed a lab small enough to fit in your hand but powerful enough to look at microscopic drops of fluid and detect harmful agents such as pathogens responsible for hepatitis, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS — even acetone in saliva or blood glucose for diabetic healthcare.

The system uses several novel technologies developed by the Advanced Control and Intelligent Systems (ACIS) Lab at UBC, empowered by mostly off-the-shelf electronics such as smartphones. The result is an inexpensive testing laboratory useful anywhere, but of particular benefit in resource-limited settings where the operation of traditional lab equipment is not feasible.

“It’s of great interest for use in places that do not have infrastructure for accurate testing in a timely fashion,” says Assoc. Prof. Homayoun Najjaran, the founder and principal investigator of the ACIS Lab. “To make it really valuable, you want to be able to put the laboratory at the point of care, and this system will do just that.”

At the heart of this point-of-care (POC) lab is an innovative “lab on a chip” — a digital microfluidic processor that precisely controls electrical fields to move sample droplets in and around a chip. Until recently, lab-on-chip circuits were fabricated on glass wafers and cost about $5 apiece — a real bargain, but the researchers thought they could do even better. In consultation with Assoc. Prof. of Printmaking Briar Craig in UBC Okanagan’s Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies, the team developed a new approach using conductive ink screen-printed onto paper.

Now one can have hundreds of chips for $5. Najjaran says the entire laboratory could get to the user for under $100.

Najjaran and his team of engineers developed the electronics that need only a small rechargeable 3.7-volt battery to power up the entire point-of-care (POC) lab with several hundred volts and manipulate the droplets of sample fluid. And it’s all monitored and controlled via Bluetooth wireless commands from a smartphone.

Funded by the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), the research also used UBC Okanagan’s Applied Micro- and Nanosystems Facility, a laboratory supported by Western Economic Diversification Canada.

Right now, the device is a working prototype and researchers are seeking an industry partner so they can refine the technology for commercialization. The team is already working with colleagues at UBC, McGill University and other institutions — including Canada’s National Design Network — to develop applications for the device.

“Other potential applications include chemical weapons detection — looking for signs of mustard gas, sulfur, or bio-hazards. And we know there is also interest in developing pathogen detection for food and beverages,” says Najjaran.

“We have the device, now let’s do some detection.”

 

Just Posted

Kelowna council puts controversial Capri-Landmark plan on hold

Councillors concerned about proposed plan to extend Sutherland Avenue

Two bands and dueling guitars come to rock in Kelowna

Secondhand Habit and Not Even Noon bring their passion under one roof for one night

UPDATE Downtown Kelowna winery evacuated due to gas leak

Kelowna Fire Department evacuating the Sandhill Winery on Richter Street Monday afternoon.

West Kelowna water park to close for the season

Summer is coming to an end and so is the water park fun

Motorbike crash on Highway 97 in Kelowna

A Cooper Mini and a motorbike collided at Highway 97 and Leckie on Monday

‘Fire tornado’ erupts as firefighters battle interior B.C. wildfire

Firefighters near Vanderhoof were taken by surprise

Abdelrazik torture lawsuit delay would be unconscionable: lawyer

The federal government is making a last-minute plea to delay the Federal Court hearing

Trudeau upset after meeting with Saskatchewan chiefs

Trudeau is upset about how time was managed in a recent meeting

Vernon police respond to accusation of delayed 911 action

Vernon RCMP are working with Westshore Estates residents following complaints of delayed 911 response.

B.C. tent city ‘devastated’ after flash flood

Maple Ridge mayor says that residents shouldn’t have to return to their flooded tents

Filipino-Canadians concerned about family after typhoon hits Philippines

Typhoon Mangkhut has killed 66 people in the Philippines and four in China

Ottawa looks at having retired judge help guide renewed pipeline review process

The feds would only says that ‘multiple options were on the table’

Canada bans use of trans fats in food products

Trans fats are know to cause heart disease

Armstrong Metalfest gears up for year 11

Band submissions open until Nov. 1

Most Read