A portable and low-cost diagnostic device has been developed by the researchers at Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne. This microfluidic tool, which has been tested with Ebola (lat. Zaire ebolavirus), requires no bulky equipment. It is thus ideally suited for use in remote regions. Over the past several years, microfluidic devices have shown extraordinary potential in the area of diagnostics. They are composed of silicone rubber with minuscule channels the width of a hair. Microfluidic devices, and can rapidly detect a number of different biomarkers in very small quantities of blood (lat. Sanguis).

It is a portable device that runs on battery power and is completely self-sustained. It operates seamlessly with inexpensive microscopes and provides very high levels of accuracy and detection. The platform can quantify up to 16 different molecules - or biomarkers - in a tiny amount of blood (less than 0.005 milliliters). The biomarkers are usually enzymes, proteins, hormones or metabolites and the concentration of these molecules in the blood provides precise information on the patient's health condition.

The device is unique in that it is composed of both analog and digital detection mechanisms, while conventional devices hitherto only integrated one or the other. Digital detection is highly sensitive and can detect the presence of a single biomarker. However, it is less effective when the concentration of biomarkers is too high, due to signal saturation. Analog measurements, on the other hand, function best at higher biomarker concentrations. Using these two detection mechanisms simultaneously, the composition of a drop of blood can be thoroughly analyzed in a short amount of time. The analysis provides precious medical information: it could help doctors make an early diagnosis or determine the stage of a disease.

Initial testing has been successfully carried out on a sample containing anti-Ebola antibodies, which indicate the presence of the virus in both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients. The device could potentially work with a large number of other protein biomarkers and molecules. The researchers found that they could load the blood sample directly onto the device and perform on-chip biomarker quantitation without requiring any sample pre-treatment.

For researchers, it is quite interesting to be able to avoid having to separate the blood. Blood plasma separation requires centrifuges, large volume samples and a long processing time. The platform will lead the development of new kinds of tests to meet the increasing demand for on-site diagnostic testing. The device could, for example, be used to monitor endemic, epidemic, and pandemic disease outbreaks.