Card can hold medical results

By Lana Groves, Asst. News Editor

Hospital patients could one day swipe a card to learn the results of their blood and urine tests almost as quickly as swiping a credit card in the grocery store.

U researchers have developed a prototype device that reads information from a magnetic strip similarly to the way a computer or credit card reader does.

“We’d been working a bit on coming up with other ways to read diagnostics,” said Marc Porter, a professor of chemistry, chemical engineering and bioengineering. “(We) got to thinking about a computer hard drive (and) how fast you read data from a hard drive.” Porter said they wondered if there was a way to take advantage of that technology.

So far, the prototype has only been tested with molecules that simulate clinical samples, but researchers believe it will be successful with real-world samples.

Michael Granger, a chemistry research assistant working with Porter, said blood or urine samples could be applied to the sample card or stick and the results read on a computer screen.

“Thus far, we’ve done some very straightforward chemistry to prove the technology is accurate,” Granger said. “We’re not looking for viruses in blood, but at a laboratory sample that we’ve put a particular pathogen or sample in it to see if the (prototype) will detect the change.”

By using the same type of technology behind disk drives and credit card swiping mechanisms, Granger and other researchers will be able to miniaturize the technology to make the device portable.

If the device was portable, it could be used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to read and analyze water and air samples, or for any other useful technique, Porter said.

The device is different from current technology that checks blood samples for disease markers because it uses magnetic nanoparticles instead of a light-based instrument.

Researchers hope to make the device available for patient use in the next five years, although they expect to make it available for testing animal blood and urine samples in just two years.

Although there are no definite plans to market the research, Porter said he was recruited to the U through the Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative.

One goal of USTAR, which was organized by the Utah State Legislature in 2006, is to recruit researchers to the U and Utah State University to develop technologies that can be marketed in Utah to bolster the economy.

Porter said he and his research team have been working on the device for about five years and received grants from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, part of the U.S. Department of Defense, and other funding from the National Science Foundation and the W. M. Keck Foundation.

“If you think about your credit card reader, why not make a health card reader?” Porter said. “I’m not sure how all of that stuff would be done. You could go to a central computer to analyze it, or you could have necessary information on that card, especially if you go to an emergency room unconscious.”

Granger said the next step is to discuss how to make the device more portable and begin testing it against real-world samples.

Porter and Granger worked with John Nordling, Rachel Millen and Heather Bullen at Iowa State University, and Mark Tondra, who worked at NVE Corp. in Minnesota at the time of research.

The study will be published Nov. 1 in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

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