The chemists hope to empower people to better monitor their health.
According to chemists from the University of Ohio, testing for cancer or other diseases may become as easy as taking a home pregnancy test in just a few years.
The scientists are developing paper strip tests, that cost just 50 cents per strip, to detect diseases like cancer and malaria. The goal is to help save the lives of people living in remote areas with little access to medical care.
Abraham Badu-Tawiah, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at OSU, explains that people could simply apply a drop of blood to the paper strip at home and mail it to a lab on a regular basis. Then, they’d only have to make a trip out to see a doctor if the test came out positive.
Impressively, the researchers discovered that the tests were accurate even a month after a blood sample was taken, solidifying the convenience for those living in remote areas.
“We want to empower people,” Badu-Tawiah said in a press statement. “If you care at all about your health and you have reason to worry about a condition, then you don’t want to wait until you get sick to go to the hospital. You could test yourself as often as you want.”
The test was initially created to help people living in rural Africa and southeast Asia get cheap and easy malaria diagnoses, as the diseases infects hundreds of millions of people every year, the researchers say.
“In Africa, malaria is so common that whenever you get feverish, the first thing you think is, ‘Oh, it’s probably malaria,’” Badu-Tawiah said.
However, according to the study findings, which appear in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, the test can be tailored to detect any disease for which the human body produces antibodies.
The strips, which are about the size of a postage stamp, are made from sheets of white paper stuck together with adhesive tape, and they run through a typical inkjet printer. Instead of typical ink, however, the strips are coated in a wax ink that creates channels to capture the blood sample.
To protect the samples from light, temperature, and humidity until they reach a lab, there are small, positively-charged “ionic” probes that allow for mass spectrometer readings.
“To get tested, all a person would have to do is put a drop of blood on the paper strip, fold it in half, put it in an envelope and mail it,” Badu-Tawiah said.
Additionally, the strips currently only cost 50 cents to make, but the researchers suspect that price will go even lower if they’re mass produced. The team hopes to license the technology to a medical diagnostics company for further development.
In the meantime, they’re working on making the tests more sensitive, so that people would be able to take them with a less-invasive source material than blood, like saliva or urine.