July 28, 2015 | By Kira

In remote or developing countries, the ability to track and diagnose contagious and life-threatening viruses such as HIV, West Nile and hepatitis B could save thousands, if not millions of lives every year. Unfortunately, many common diagnostic tools, such as enzyme-linked immunosorbant assay (ELISA), require large and expensive readout instruments that can only be found in well-equipped hospital labs. Now, a team of researchers from the California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA have created a low-cost, smartphone-based device and app that is made with a 3D printer and can read ELISA plates on-the-spot, with up to 99.6% accuracy for certain viruses.

The new ELISA platform is made on a 3D printer. Image via UCLA

To conduct a traditional ELISA test, doctors place antigen samples from the patient onto a surface, normally a small transparent plate resembling a honeycomb with 96 tiny wells. Specific antibodies are then placed into each well, which are linked to an enzyme and followed by that enzyme’s substrate. A chemical reaction then occurs, marked by a change in color, which can be analyzed by doctors to determine whether particular viruses are present. While that process may seem a bit complicated to us non-medical experts, these type of multiwall plate batched analysis are highly efficient, and dramatically reduce diagnosis costs per patient compared to nonbatched or nonstandard tests.

A traditional ELISA 96-well plate

With the UCLA researcher’s new invention, the same steps are taken, but with a small and low-cost 3D printed device that attaches to a smartphone. Known as a ‘colorimtreic microplate reader,’ the attachment illuminates a 96-well plate with an LED array. The light is projected through each well and collected by 96 plastic optical fibers. A custom-designed smartphone app then reads the resulting images and analyzes them using a machine-learning algorithm. Perhaps most impressively, the diagnostic results for the entire 96-well plate can be sent back to the phone within one minute, complete with a handy visualization for the user.

The mobile platform has been successfully tested in a clinical microbiology laboratory, comparing 571 patient samples to FDA-approved samples of mumps, measles, and herpes simplex viruses 1 and 2. The platform achieved an accuracy of 99.6 percent in diagnosing mumps, 98.6 percent for measles, and 99.4 percent each for herpes simplex 1 and 2.

Schematic overview and different perpsectives of the colorimetric reader

According to the research paper, published online in the journal ACS Nano, this cost-effective, hand-held platform could assist healthcare professionals perform disease screening and vaccination tracking campaigns in resource-poor and field settings.In addition to serving low-resource or remote areas, the researchers noted that intrinsic wireless connectivity can serve epidemic-related studies, generating real-time, spatiotemporal maps of disease prevalence and immunity.

“We are always looking toward the next innovation, and are looking to adapt the basic design of this ELISA cell-phone reader to create smartphone-based quantified readers for other important medical tests,” said Dino Di Carlo, professor of bioengineering and one of the researchers on the team. “It is quite important to have these kinds of mobile devices, especially for administering medical tests that are usually done in a hospital or clinical laboratory,” added lead researcher Aydogan Ozcan. “It’s fantastic for an undergraduate to be first author on the publication,” he said in reference to first author Brandon Berg and two other undergraduates on the research team.

Screenshots from the Colorimetric Plate Reader app. The app creates easy-to-read visualizations of the diagnostic test results

Alongside Berg, Di Carlo, and Ozcan, the UCLA team was made up of an interdisciplinary group of researchers from the fields of electrical engineering, physics and astronomy, to bioengineering, pathology and laboratory medicine. The Californa NanoSystems Institute and the Johnsson Comprehensive Cancer Center also contributed, with support from the National Science Foundation and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Since 3D printing technology is already acknowledged for being affordable and easily transportable to low-resource areas, it is easy to imagine this kind of groundbreaking medical technology being used in remote, rural or developing countries, many of which are at high risk for virus-related epidemics. And, given the incredibly high success rates of the clinical trials so far, it can only be hoped that this life-saving device is put to good use as soon as humanly possible.


Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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Shaun Mason - California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA wrote at 7/28/2015 7:30:03 PM:

Thank you for featuring our research!

Shaun Mason - California NanoSystems Institute at UCLA wrote at 7/28/2015 7:28:16 PM:

Thank you for featuring our research!

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