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Gene-Z Device Applies Microfluidic Diagnosis at Low Cost

Microfluidic analysis is a hot topic in medicine and sensory systems of late. It's a diagnosis method which combines hundreds of microfluidic channels laid out like a circuit board, with microscale electronic devices. This setup allows a single device the size of a credit card to perform as many as a quarter million simultaneous tests on a single drop of blood or water, and process the results within hours.

Many labs have been working frantically to perfect various types of the technology, but until now, nobody even considered such applications in the third world. Every device produced has been reliant on mains power, or big and bulky, despite the cards themselves being small. This is because the general assumption is a testing station is going to be testing multiple patients, or multiple samples at once.

However, not every use calls for en-masse testing, and if you wish to bring such tools to the developing world, having them as simple as possible is a boon. It does not matter if your device can only test one patient at a time, if it actually works, way out in the boondocks. One is still far better than none.

Enter Syed Hashsham, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Michigan State University. He has created a device called Gene-Z, a microfluidic device for genetic analysis. His device is solar powered, so it can be used out in the sticks, far from civilisation. It performs its genetic analysis on performs genetic analysis on microRNAs and other genetic markers, which have been linked most every form of to cancer, as well as many other health issues.

However, what it scans for, isn't the clever bit. The clever bit is that aside from the microfluidic arrays, it has no processing power of it's own. At first glance this seems a tad silly. If it has no processing power, how can it diagnose anything? However, what it does is ingenious.

The Gene-Z docks with any iphone or android based cell-phone, and co-ops the phone as it's computing unit. It works with any manufacturer's phone, so long as they run iPhone v4 or any Android operating system, which all current smart phones do. So, it uses equipment which the practitioner is very likely to already have to hand. By doing this, it avoids doubling up on computing power with what the practitioner already has to carry, and radically drops the cost of making and thus selling the units.

In addition of course, the phone it docks with still works as a phone, so providing the phone has reception of one sort or another, results of a test can be sent from the field straight to a hospital for further analysis, or to suggest a treatment regimen, using the internet.

Another researcher working with Syed Hashsham is Reza Nassiri, director of MSU's Institute of International Health and an assistant dean in the College of Osteopathic Medicine. He is working hard to expand on the on the medical capabilities for the device, and more importantly, establishing connections with physicians worldwide so this form of telehealth gets out into the world at large and starts doing good sooner, rather than later.

In a statement, Nassiri said "Until now, little effort has been concentrated on moving cancer detection to global health settings in resource-poor countries. Early cancer detection in these countries may lead to affordable management of cancers with the aid of new screening and diagnostic technologies that can overcome global health care disparities."

In  addition to cancer detection, the Gene-Z device also is being developed to diagnose routine tuberculosis and drug-resistant TB, determine HIV virus levels during treatment and monitor overall antibiotic resistance.


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