Call it a laboratory in a 5-inch plastic cube.
Testing blood, food or water samples for disease-causing agents or toxic substances usually requires days of expensive lab work by highly trained personnel.
Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories say they have developed a portable device that allows first responders and public health workers to quickly run tests in the field for dangerous agents such as viruses, bacteria or biotoxins.
The purpose of the device, called SpinDx, “is to cut out all the time and money spent collecting a sample from a patient, sending it to a lab and waiting for the results to come back,” said Anup Singh, acting manager of Sandia’s biological science and technology division.
“It is very easy to use, and it’s portable,” Singh said. The sturdy plastic cube weighs about two pounds and can be used by people without scientific training, he said.
Singh compared SpinDx to a compact disc player that spins a disposable plastic disc containing the test reagents.
The $2 disk is the key to SpinDx’s versatility. By changing the disk, the user can test for a wide variety of toxins or disease-causing agents, he said. “Dx” is medical shorthand for diagnosis.
“The device doesn’t have to be engineered all over again for a new application,” Singh said. It can complete a test in less than 15 minutes.
SpinDx can also test whole-blood samples, much like the home glucose monitors used by diabetics, he said.
The work is funded by a four-year $4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health’s Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
NIH is seeking a device simple enough to be used by first responders in the field to screen people who may have been exposed to a bioterror agent, such as anthrax, ricin or botulinum, Singh said.
But the device holds promise for medical uses — as a diagnostic tool in emergency rooms or doctor’s offices — and for agricultural and public health purposes, such as finding contamination in food or water, he said.
The device could be manufactured for less than $1,000 a unit, he estimated, giving SpinDx a cost advantage over other detection devices on the market.
“The niche that I think this device can occupy is that it can compete with devices that are much more expensive and complex without sacrificing any of the performance,” he said.
Singh predicts that SpinDx will be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and commercialized for medical uses in about five years.
He expects the device will be used within three years for nonmedical purposes, such as detecting toxins, bacteria or viruses in food and water.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal