A strip of paper developed by scientists can sense the presence of virtually any illness in less than 30 minutes, and at low cost.
Researchers from McMaster University developed the diagnostic test that can detect anything from cancer, to a malignant tumor, to the common cold. And the test couldn’t be easier to administer; just drop a dollop of sweat or saliva onto the litmus-like paper and wait for the diagnosis.
The paper is coated with reactive material that changes colour to indicate the presence of the DNA sequence for a specific disease.
“Every disease and every infectious agent has genetic material, so in theory this can be used for the detection of any pathogen for any human disease,” said Yingfu Li, a biochemistry professor at McMaster, and the Canada research chair in nucleic acids research.
In other words, if scientists have already unlocked and can recognize the genetic code of an illness, they’ll be able to read it off the paper. That includes afflictions from the flu, to neurodegenerative diseases, to colorectal, prostate and lung cancers.
The creators want to get this “lab-on-a-strip” to store shelves as their next step, and they’re not far off. No less than 10 private sector companies and public agencies have been in touch with McMaster’s Biointerfaces Institute. The test was initially targeted for first-line health professionals in hospitals and doctors’ offices.
“For now, these aren’t meant to be the definitive yes-no; these are meant to be the screen that alerts physicians as to the next course of action,” said co-lead scientist and institute director John Brennan.
He sees beneficial applications for the diagnostic test in developing countries as well. Water contamination and disease outbreak in regions could be detected quickly – and cheaply – before the condition worsened.
The McMaster study is slated for publication in February as the cover story in Angewandte Chemie, a peer-reviewed scientific journal in Germany.