Suitcase-Sized Device Detects Anthrax
Researchers at Cornell University have put a complete anthrax analysis lab onto a computer chip. The suitcase-sized anthrax detector has fluid-pumping, power and computation equipment nicely packed into a 1 centimeter by 3 centimeter space. The so-called microfluidic device integrates sample purification and real-time DNA analysis chambers as well.
The detector only needs a small biological sample. Insert the sample and the machine automatically picks up cells and separates the DNA, which is then analyzed in real-time. These kinds of tests normally require a full-sized lab and take days. With this system, tests can be done in the field more quickly and easily, and the inventors claim it can detect anthrax even if only a few dozen spores are present.
To build this device, which took several years, the researchers started with the idea of fitting a portable lab in a given space, as opposed to starting with the capabilities they needed. That put constraints on what they could do, but it also helped them focus on what was important. This system could be adapted to any other pathogen, or be used in forensics as well -- imagine being able to test DNA at a crime scene without having to wait for lab results to come back.
The authors, Nathaniel Cady and Carl Batt, published his results in the International Journal of Biomedical Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, and hope to improve it further. mostly by changing the way it pumps fluids internally.