While some of us have access to advanced technology that can diagnose serious illnesses, not everyone in the world is so lucky. A lot of advancements have been made in the past year with regard to low-cost diagnostics, including a revolutionary new device called the DxBox.
The DxBox is a wallet-sized card made of Mylar that is able to differentiate between six pathogens that are likely causes of fever in the developing world. This Mylar card contained dehydrated reagents are able to withstand warm temperatures for months. There is no electricity or refrigeration necessary. DxBox was developed by a team led by Paul Yager. Yager is a professor of bioengineering at the University of Washington. Funding for this endeavor was provided by the Gates Foundation’s Grand Challenges in Global Health Initiative.
This is just one of the many new products used to create portable, easy-to-use, and inexpensive diagnostics that can be used in low-resource settings all around the world. This device and many others are increasing access to healthcare in the developing world because they are simple enough to be used by almost anyone and robust enough to withstand use in the field.
There are a number of promising new tests for global health problems in the works. Scientists, biotech companies, public health professionals, and nonprofits are all working together to develop these solutions. Some represent scientific breakthroughs, while others utilize established technologies, like the home pregnancy test.
The DxBox processes results using microfluidics, which is the manipulation of liquids at very small scales. In order use the DxBox, clinicians only need a drop of the patient’s blood. The blood then travels via the device’s tiny channels to an area that contains dried antibodies. When infected blood binds to the appropriate antibody, the pattern of colored spots indicates the cause of the fever to clinicians. This can be tested within minutes.
Yager and his University of Washington colleague Patrick Stayton have also developed a reagent system that can be used in other types of diagnostic tests, such as paper-based lateral flow tests. Lateral flow tests, like the home pregnancy test, can often be limited in sensitivity but are very robust.
Stayton and Yager created systems in order to purify and enrich targets. The developed these systems out of samples such as blood and then captured them so that they could be directly placed on existing lateral flow tests. This led to increased sensitivity of lateral flow tests for malaria.
According to Yager, the team’s goal is to create diagnostics that are disposable, cheap, more sensitive than existing tests, and able to be stored at room temperature for as long as a year. The researchers are currently zeroing in on influenza and other respiratory viruses, in addition to urinary and blood-borne pathogens such as Dengue virus.
Yager says that the papers for the DxBox can be manufactured in bulk, making them inexpensive. Yager felt that there is a lot of incredible technology in the United States that we take for granted. He and Stayton are motivated to transport these technologies to people who do not have access to 21st-century medical technology and to make them affordable.