In Boston Dr Whiteside of Harvard University has created a postage stamp sized diagnostic test for liver damage. Instead of the usual method of creating a diagnostic lab in miniature with small instruments, test tubes, and the like that fits into a small case and can be used in remote locations, Dr. Whiteside's lab is putting aside the glass and aluminum and settling instead for paper.
His laboratory devised a model which uses paper etched with tiny channels "mined with proteins and chemically-triggered dyes proteins”. All of this fits within a square of paper about the size of a postage stamp. To use the diagnostic tool, only a drop of blood needs to be placed on the square and as it runs through the channels the dyes respond to enzymes in the blood and light up different colors. Based on the colors, the health care provider can determine if liver damage is occurring or not.
The great thing about such a test is that, while it cost a great deal to create a working prototype, mass producing a small paper model is particularly cheap. Patients who suffer from AIDs and tuberculosis (in combination) take high doses of powerful drug cocktails run a high risk of liver damage and failure which can be even more deadly than the diseases they are trying to control. This makes it imperative to test on a regular basis to see how the drugs are affecting the organ. However, regular testing is far too expensive for many patients.
Dr. Whiteside's test has the ability to revolutionize the way people are being treated for HIV with tuberculosis. If it could really be made for fifty cents, that could be affordable even for impoverished populations which could be a wonderful tool for trying to reduce liver failure associated with treatment of these combined illnesses.
The original article is at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/27/health/27paper.html?ref=health