Team of University of Rhode Island engineers led by Professor Mohammad Faghri has created a new paper-based platform for conducting a wide range of complex medical diagnostics. The key development was the invention of fluid actuated valves embedded in the paper that allow for sequential manipulation of sample fluids and multiple reagents in a controlled manner to perform complex multi-step immune-detection tests without human intervention.
Faghri said that the platform technology can potentially be applied to a wide variety of medical diagnostics, from Lyme disease and HIV to Ebola and malaria.
A number of companies have already expressed interest in adapting various applications to the new platform. A strong patent with broad claims has been issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for this technology, and two more are pending.
According to Faghri, paper-based lateral flow test strips, such as for pregnancy tests, have been commercially successful for many years. In these devices, sample fluid wicks along a strip of paper, reacts with embedded reagents, and produces a colored signal result. However, more complex medical diagnostics such as enzymatic assay protocols require multiple reagents triggered at particular times during the process, which can only be accomplished autonomously using the proprietary microfluidic valve technology created by the URI research team.
The lab-on-paper devices are constructed with multiple layers of paper printed with wax to create a three-dimensional structure of valves and channels along which the fluid travels, triggering the reagents at the appropriate time and generating a result.
This new paper-based technology is the next generation of the lab-on-a-chip device the research team reported in 2011, which has been further refined since then. That device is now smaller and employs an innovative micropump for precise fluid movement within the cartridge’s microchannels.
Faghri and collaborator Constantine Anagnostopoulos, a URI adjunct professor of mechanical engineering, established a start-up company, Labonachip LLC, to commercialize their technologies. Anagnostopoulos serves as the company’s president.
The researchers have already succeeded in performing a feasibility study of their technology by detecting a biomarker for sepsis, a life-threatening complication from an infection. ProThera Biologics, a Providence-based company co-founded by Brown University Professor Yow-Pin Lim, identified a biomarker that indicates a patient is going into shock from sepsis, and the company has collaborated with Faghri and Anagnostopoulos to develop a paper-based rapid test using this biomarker.
The researchers are working with the University of Rhode Island Research Foundation to identify potential partners.