I like to push myself. I like to take on projects that are on the edge of the understanding of most laymen and generalists, and work with my client to deliver the collateral required. I wrote this white paper concerning the development of a new generation of low-cost, easily operated point of care IVD devices as my first project for the Commercialisation Unit at University of Glasgow. This is complex stuff, and while my task is not to pitch science to scientists, it’s still necessary to understand what’s going on, to be able to pitch science to potential business partners and investors. The trick? Collaboration, and intelligent engagement with the experts at the centre of the project. White paper on SAW diagnostic technology for University of Glasgow Commercialisation Unit.
In-vitro diagnostics (IVDs) plays a part in the life of almost all of us.
Often conducted on a sample of blood, urine, stool, tissue, or swab, IVDs assess whether we have a specific disease condition or genetic predisposition to a disease, usually measured either as a direct marker or a proxy. While tests have historically been conducted in clinical laboratories, more and more tests are now being created for use in the field and at home. From pregnancy tests to diabetes monitors, IVDs provide patients with information about their health and give doctors the tools they need to choose optimal treatments.
With the COVID-19 pandemic now a global reality, many more people have become engaged with the details of their own health. The ‘PCR’ test, for example, the most sensitive and reliable diagnosis method for viral infections, was essentially unknown as a term outside of the scientific community before COVID-19, yet is now recognised by name around the world.
From their earliest days, PCR tests were in the main run in large laboratories, using complex and costly machines, requiring skilled technicians for both care of the machine and results analysis. Prior to analysis, sample processing, involving extraction and enrichment of genetic markers of disease, often requires a series of complex manipulations and additions of reagents, again calling for skilled technicians.
A succession of more compact and portable systems have, as a result, been developed in recent years.
By essentially reducing the process to that of loading a sample into a cartridge for insertion into the machine, these have lowered the skilling required for operation. However, many of the underlying processes used to prepare the sample for testing remain unchanged, with the instruments requiring complex automated processing and associated maintenance.
With an ever increasing reliance on IVD testing out of laboratory (and in many parts of the world on a low cost/low skill basis capable of facilitating diagnosis at a local level), there is much benefit to be gained from re-envisioning the process involved in extracting and testing the sample. The objective of this would be to produce compact and portable machines, operable by low skilled users, but which require neither costly and impractical maintenance regimes, nor expensive (and potentially difficult to obtain) consumables.
Such an advance might also make the creation of laboratory units capable of mass sample processing a far more viable proposition.
Work conducted at the University of Glasgow in Scotland by Jon Cooper and Julien Reboud, on SAW (Surface Acoustic Wave) actuated PCR technology, provides this radical rethink.
It opens the door to a new generation of diagnostic machines, replacing the limiting electromechanical extraction process with a reliable, low-maintenance process based on the manipulation of fluids by sound waves.
Its potential to effect change is unbounded.
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