It can cost hundreds of dollars and days to scan biological materials for important biomarkers that signal diseases such as diabetes or cancer using industry standard equipment. Researchers face enormous time constraints and financial hurdles from having to run these analyses on a regular basis. A Northeastern University professor has developed a single instrument that can do multiple scans at a fraction of the time and cost. That's because it uses considerably less material and ultra-sensitive detection methods to do the same thing.
ScanDrop is a portable instrument no bigger than a shoebox that has the capacity to detect a variety of biological specimen. For that reason it will benefit a wide range of users beyond the medical community, including environmental monitoring and basic scientific research.
The instrument acts as a miniature science lab, of sorts. It contains a tiny chip, made of polymer or glass, connected to equally tiny tubes. An extremely small-volume liquid sample — whether it's water or a biological fluid such as serum — flows in one of those tubes, through the lab-on-a-chip device, and out the other side. While inside, the sample is exposed to a slug of microscopic beads functionalized to react with the lab test's search parameters. The beads fluoresce when the specific marker or cell in question has been detected; from there, an analysis by ScanDrop can provide the concentration levels of that marker or cell.
Because the volumes being tested with ScanDrop are so small, the testing time dwindles to just minutes. This means you could get near-real time measures of a changing sample — be it bacteria levels in a flowing body of water or dynamic insulin levels in the bloodstream of a person with diabetes.