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3D printed disease diagnostics

By: , Posted on: June 25, 2018

3D printed disease diagnosis device at the point of care. Credit: monkeybusinessimages on

A 3D printed device offers rapid disease diagnosis at the point of care

Liu, C. et al.: “Fully 3D printed integrated reactor array for point-of-care molecular diagnostics,” Biosensors and Bioelectronics (2018)

Diagnosing disease at the point of care is a challenge. If met, it will enable more rapid and effective treatment to patients worldwide, particularly in the developing world. Now, a new low-cost 3D-printed device can rapidly diagnose diseases at patients’ bedsides.

To diagnose disease in non-traditional venues, or in remote or resource-limited areas, diagnostic tools must be inexpensive, portable, and easy to use. In their recent work published in Biosensors and Bioelectronics, researchers at University of Pennsylvania in the United States describe a 3D-printed device that can carry out molecular diagnosis cheaply, quickly, and easily. The device has already been used to successfully diagnose meningitis and malaria.

“Our 3D-printed molecular diagnostic device has great potential for point of care diagnosis of infectious disease,” says Research Associate Professor Changchun Liu, project leader. “We have overcome some of the limitations of 3D printing methods and created a microfluidic reactor array that is sensitive and specific, meeting required clinical standards for disease diagnosis.”

The team used 3D printing to make microfluidic chips that can identify disease through nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs). Amplification is achieved with the help of assays which allow for the sensitive and specific detection of pathogen-associated nucleic acids: i.e., “molecular” diagnostics.

If made available in non-traditional venues such as doctors’ surgeries, pharmacies, and schools, and in the developing world, these tests could help provide rapid and effective treatment. At present, however, the implementation of assays, and especially NAATs, for disease markers is limited to laboratories with expensive equipment and trained technicians.

To overcome this problem, Liu and his team have re-developed commercially available 3D printing methods. By combing existing design and fabrication methods, they were able to overcome many of the current limitations of 3D printing and make effective disease diagnosis arrays. These successfully detected the presence of N. meningitidis, and malaria causing P. falciparum, at levels comparable to those of the lab.

The team’s modified 3D printing array fabrication method enabled them to avoid chip channel closure and leakage, use the optimized surface coating materials, and avoid surface adsorption of the analysed material. The microfluidic chips created can be operated with a small module that provides controlled heating and optical detection, and it will work using a smartphone camera.

“This 3D printed device is a baseline technology that can be easily adapted by others for a variety of medical testing applications,” says Liu. “Medical practitioners will soon have the ability to rapidly implement these systems and be able to address emerging infections and other public health crises quickly and affordably.”

The adoption and development of this technology will allow for the rapid prototyping of new diagnostics and the customizing and tailoring of tests worldwide. It can be used to produce devices on both a small and large scale, which can cut the costs of pre-clinical and clinical trials, or roll out a high volume of tests to countries in the developing world.


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