Oct 26, 2015 | By Benedict

Scientists at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland have unveiled a unique 3D printed medical device which is able to monitor critical blood levels in real time. The miniaturised microfluidic apparatus, no larger than a packet of chewing gum, will allow medical professionals to monitor levels of glucose, lactate and other substances in a patient’s blood. The device, which uses a series of biosensors to check blood levels, was unveiled in Atlanta at the 2015 BioCAS Conference.

Despite its small size and unassuming appearance, the 3D printed device is packed with essential medical tech, for both collecting data and transmitting it. “We embedded biosensors in it to measure several different substances in the blood or blood serum along with an array of electronics to transmit the results in real time to a tablet via Bluetooth,” explained Sandro Carrara, a scientist at EPFL’s Integrated Systems Laboratory (ISL).

The 3D printed device is able to monitor levels of metabolites (glucose, lactate and bilirubin) and ions (calcium and potassium) in the blood, all of which indicate changes in the condition of intensive-care patients. Since blood levels can be checked in real time with the additively manufactured tool, doctors are able to act quickly when these blood levels indicate potential danger. “Nowadays, several of these levels are measured periodically,” explained Dr. Carrara. “But in some cases, any change in level calls for an immediate response, something that is not possible with the existing systems.”

The device offers several advantages over current alternatives, which EPFL scientists foresee it replacing. Its size, for instance, makes it a much less invasive option than its predecessors, causing less discomfort to the patient. Its ability to monitor the levels of a range of substances offers important advantages too: since up to 40 molecules could potentially be monitored simultaneously, medical staff could afford to lose several machines currently used to monitor individual molecules. The advantages of this are threefold: it could allow hospitals to save money by losing superfluous machinery; it could help them free up precious space; it could also help to reassure nervous patients and family members, with the absence of large and intimidating machines providing some psychological comfort.

Images from EPFL

The 3D printed prototype has been successfully tested on rodents, and there are provisional plans to test the device on humans at the University Hospital of Lausanne (CHUV). The promising early signs have been noticed by investors, with a number of manufacturers showing interest in developing the device. “We could hit the market in two to three years," said Dr. Carrara.

The university’s research was supported by the Nano-Tera initiative, which is financed by the Swiss government.

 

 

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