Mobile point-of-care (POC) smartphone-based nucleic acid assay allows for quick turn arounds and accurate information in any healthcare setting, including resource limited and remote environments
DNA detection might soon be accomplished with the use of a smartphone. That’s the goal of a research effort at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). If this effort succeeds, it would give medical laboratories a new tool to use in genetic testing.
Clinical laboratory equipment is becoming more effective even as it shrinks in size and cost. One such device has been developed by Ozcan Laboratory Group, headed by UCLA professor Aydogan Ozcan, PhD. It is a portable, smartphone-based mobile lab with sensitivity and reliability on par with large-scale medical laboratory-based equipment.
Ozcan Lab’s portable DNA detection system, according to a UCLA press release, “leverages the sensors and optics of cellphones” and adapts them to read and report the presence of DNA molecules. The sensor uses a new detector dye mixture and reportedly produces a signal that is 10 to 20 times brighter than previous detector dye outputs.
This new system improves upon the optical detection abilities of current point-of-care nucleic acid tests (POCTs) and, according to a study published in the American Chemical Society’s ACS Nano, the device is able to “retain the same robust standards of benchtop lab-based tests.”
Go Anywhere Technology Improves POC Testing
Nucleic acid detecting assays are crucial tools anatomic pathologists use to identify pathogens, detect residual disease markers, and identify treatable mutations of diseases. Due to the need for amplification of nucleic acids for detection with benchtop equipment, there are challenges associated with providing rapid diagnostics outside the clinical laboratory.
Using the new mobile POC nucleic acid testing system developed by Ozcan et al, pathologists can effectively step away from the lab to perform rapid POC testing and accelerated diagnostics onsite, rather than needing to transport materials to and from a central laboratory. The mobile testing assay enables pathologists to carry a medical laboratory with them into the field, or into limited-resource or decentralized testing environments, without sacrificing quality or sensitivity. And according to the ACS Nano article, at a relatively low-cost compared to benchtop nucleic acid testing equipment.
The device developed by Ozcan Labs (above) is a “field-portable and cost-effective mobile-phone-based nucleic acid amplification and readout platform [that] is broadly applicable to other real-time nucleic acid amplification tests by similarly modulating intercalating dye performance. It is compatible with any fluorescence-based assay that can be run in a 96-well microplate format, making it especially valuable for POC and resource-limited settings.” (Caption and photo copyright: American Chemical Society.)
In an article published in Future Medicine, Ozcan and Hatice Ceylan Koydemir, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher in electrical engineering at UCLA, comment on the growing interest in mobile POC diagnostics, stating that smartphone-based devices and platforms have the potential “to be used for early detection and prevention of a variety of health problems.”
According to the article, smartphone-based sensing and imaging platforms have been developed to:
- Analyze chemicals and biological specimens;
- Perform advanced cytometry and bright-field/fluorescence microscopy;
- Detect bacterial contamination;
- Image nano-sized specimens;
- Detect antimicrobial drug resistance; and
- Analyze enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA)-based testing.
Smartphones, according to Ozcan and Koydemir, have been adapted to a range of biomedical measurement tools, “have the potential to transform traditional uses of imaging, sensing, and diagnostic systems, especially for point-of-care applications and field settings,” and can provide speedy results.
A ‘Highly Stable’ and Sensitive System
The proof-of-concept study of Ozcan Lab’s new smartphone-based detection system and new detector dye mixture was led by Janay E. Kong, PhD in bioengineering at UCLA, with the help of Ozcan and fellow professors Dino Di Carlo, PhD, professor of bioengineering and mechanical and aerospace engineering at UCLA, and Omai Garner, PhD, associate professor of clinical microbiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.
According to an article in Bioscience Technologies, the new smartphone DNA detection system addresses issues with detection of light emitted from intercalator dyes, which are normally “too subtle and unstable for regular cellphone camera sensors.” The new system uses loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) to amplify DNA in connection with a newly developed dye that uses hydroxynaphthol blue (HNB) as an indicator.
The inclusion of HNB into the dye, according to the original research study, “yields 20 times higher fluorescent signal change over background compared to current intercalating dyes,” making the results bright enough for smartphone camera sensors without “interfering with the nucleic acid amplification process.” The original study reports that the digital LAMP system and use of the HNB intercalating dye, in fact, provided “significantly enhanced performance compared to a benchtop reader with standard LAMP conditions.”
Ozcan labs shows no signs of slowing down their development of mobile POC diagnostic devices. The development of these smartphone-based tools may provide unique and much-needed equipment for clinical pathologists given the rising interest in mobile healthcare worldwide.
— Amanda Warren
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Tiny, Simple-to-Use Lensless Microscope Might Soon Find a Place in Pathology
In a trial, the lens-free microscope invention from the UCLA California Nano Systems Institute enabled a board-certified pathologist to detect cancers and other cellular abnormalities at 99% accuracy
One of our favorite innovators is at it again, this time with a device that could eventually allow pathologists to use a device coupled with a smartphone to view cancer and other abnormalities at the cellular level.
At UCLA, Professor Aydogan Ozcan, Ph.D. is already well known for having invented attachments that use a smartphone’s camera to create a tiny, lens-free microscope. Now Ozcan, who is the Chancellor’s Professor of Electrical Engineering and Bioengineering at the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science, has created an inexpensive smartphone device that produces holographic images of tissue samples that allow pathologists to view cancer and other abnormalities at the cellular level, according to a December 17, 2014, Science Translational Medicine (STM) article. (more…)
Company says it will offer five diagnostic tests that are useful to the public and some of these tests are among the highest volume tests performed by clinical labs
Heading to market is another device that works with a smartphone to provide consumers with a way to perform five popular medical laboratory tests. The product was developed by Cue, Inc., which describes itself as an entrepreneurial mobile diagnostics developer.
Cue is an at-home lab test device targeted at consumers. It will be priced at about $300, noted a report published by MobiHealthNews.
“We’re very interested in putting the power of the lab into the consumer’s hands in this new way,” said Clint Sever, Cue Cofounder and Chief Product Officer. However, pending Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearance, Cue’s device is being presold under an “investigational exception” for $199, with promise of delivery in spring 2015.
Cue Allows Consumers to Perform Five Routine Lab Tests at Home
Initially, Cue will perform tests for influenza; testosterone; vitamin D; C-reactive protein (a marker for inflammation); and luteinizing hormone (an indicator of a women’s fertility) But that is just for starters.
According to Ayub Khattak, Cue Cofounder and CEO, the company plans to add more medical lab tests in the future. “The large majority of tests you do in the [clinical] lab today, we want to give you access to in your home,” he declared.
Ayub Khattak (pictured above), Cue Cofounder and CEO, says the Cue device will initially preform five routine tests, but other lab tests will be available in the future, (Photo copyright Cue)
In its blog about Cue, IEE Spectrum noted that the first five clinical laboratory tests the company designed to run on its device were selected because these are the most common tests run by labs and, therefore, are the most useful to the public. Sever and Khattak observed in the MobiHealthNews story that all of these tests—except the influenza test—are used in monitoring a patient’s condition and are done regularly.
Athletes and older men, for instance, want to keep tabs on their testosterone levels. People are interested in Vitamin D because it affects mood. Clinical laboratories perform 70-million Vitamin D yearly, according to Khattak. Inflammation is both a predictor of heart disease and a counter indicator for intense workouts, so if the tests indicated elevated C-reactive protein, a person may want to back off from exercise for a little while, he added. The test for luteinizing hormone tells a woman when she is likely to conceive.
The influenza test, on the other hand, allows parents or other caretakers to check for flu at home, similar to taking a child’s temperature. Sever emphasized that the flu test isn’t meant to replace a doctor visit. “It just gives you more information so you can have an informed conversation with your doctor,” he said.
How the Cue Device Works
The Cue device is about the size of a Rubik’s cube. The test cartridges are about the size of a matchbox. Each cartridge uses blood, saliva, or mucus samples to conduct home lab tests. Each cartridge contains microfluidic channels and the necessary reagents for the test to be performed.
When the cartridge is inserted, Cue prompts the user to collect a sample with the sample wand that is included with the device, explained the IEE Spectrum blog. The testosterone test requires a saliva specimen. The flu test uses a nasal swab, and the other tests require a drop of blood as the specimen.
Once the sample wand is inserted into the cartridge, the reagents combine with the sample inside the cartridge. A sensor then looks for the target molecule, such as testosterone or Vitamin D, and detects the quantity or level. Cue sends this information via Bluetooth to the user’s iPhone or Android smartphone. The smartphone app allows the user to track results over time, and offers suggestions for improving health status. For example, Sever said Cue might recommend specific foods or exercise to boost low testosterone level.
Can Cue Produce More Accurate Tests Than Clinical Laboratories?
Khattak can’t make claims about the accuracy of Cue’s technology because it hasn’t yet been cleared by the FDA, noted the MobiHealthNews story. But the devices inventors believe that Cue tests have the potential to be more accurate than those performed in clinical laboratories, because the human error factor is eliminated.
“What we’ve done is we simplified and automated the whole process,” explained Khattak. “So whereas a lab technician might have 10 steps and they might do 10 of them quite well, those little errors in each of the steps add up. And human error is the largest cause of variation and deviation from standard reproducible results… With us, it is one step. You add the sample, and then you get your results.”
Cue, a modular, Rubik-cube-sized device, uses simple microfluidic laboratory technology to perform five different medical laboratory tests that people routinely have done, including testosterone and vitamin D levels, inflammation, fertility and influenza. The device is being presold under an investigational exception to consumers for $199, with promise of delivery in spring 2015. Once approved by the FDA, the price will be $300. (Photo copyright Cue)
Investors are Successful Tech Entrepreneurs and Diagnostics Experts
Clinical laboratory managers might find it interesting that Cue investors are successful entrepreneurs with expertise in both diagnostics and digital technologies. The investor group includes two University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) professors, as well as an anonymous private investor, noted MobiHealthNews.
One of the UCLA professors is Aydogan Ozcan, Ph.D., who heads up UCLA Engineering’s Bio- and Nano-Photonics Laboratory. His private company, Holomic, also develops smartphone diagnostic devices. Dark Daily has written about Ozcan’s work. (See Dark Daily, “Tiny, Simple-to-Use Lensless Microscope Might Soon Find a Place in Pathology,” June 25, 2010.)
The other founder is Patrick Soon-Shiong, M.D., a former UCLA Medical Professor, who currently serves on the advisory board of UCLA Engineering’s Institute for Technology Advancement. Known as “LA’s billionaire doctor,” Soon-Shiong, a surgeon-turned-entrepreneur, is co-inventor on more than 40 U.S. and foreign patents and has sold two successful businesses for $8.5 billion.
Last year, Soon-Shiong launched Los Angeles-based Nantworks, LLC, a company that aims to revolutionize medicine by adding “Big Data” to patient care. Soon-Shiong also serves as Providence Health & Services’ Director for Cancer Services and Bioinformatics.
Will Consumers Pay for a Device that Does Medical Lab Tests at Home?
Will consumers be willing to pay $199 for a medical laboratory testing device that hooks up to their smartphone or tablet PC? The founders of Cue will find out next year, assuming that FDA clearance is forthcoming and the device reaches the market. Also, will Cue perform medical lab tests with accuracy that is comparable with that of the nation’s best clinical laboratories? There are many pathologists and lab scientists who will be prepared to challenge that statement.
—By Patricia Kirk
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