A novel low-cost lab-on-a-chip device to analyse sputum from patients with pulmonary diseases such as tuberculosis and asthma has been developed.
“To develop more accurate diagnosis and treatment approaches for patients with pulmonary diseases, we have to analyse sample cells directly from the lungs rather than by drawing blood,” said Tony Jun Huang, professor of engineering science and mechanics at Pennsylvania State University.
“For instance, different drugs are used to treat different types of asthma patients. If you know what a person’s immunophenotype is, you can provide personalised medicine for their particular disease,” said Huang.
There are several problems with the current method for sputum analysis. The first is that human specimens can be contagious, and sputum analysis requires handling of specimens in several discrete machines.
With a lab-on-a-chip device, all biospecimens are safely contained in a single disposable component.
Another issue is the sample size required for analysis, which is often larger than a person can easily produce.
The acoustofluidic sputum liquefier created by Huang’s group requires 100 times less sample while still providing accuracy equivalent to the standard system.
A further issue is that current systems are difficult to use and require trained operators, researchers said.
With the lab-on-a-chip system, a nurse can operate the device with a touch of a few buttons and get a read-out, or the patient could even operate the device at home.
In addition, the disposable portion of the device should cost less than a dollar to manufacture.
“This will offer quick analysis of samples without having to send them out to a centralised lab,” said Po-Hsun Huang, a graduate student in the Huang group and the first author on the paper published in the journal Lab on a Chip.
“This is the first on-chip sputum liquefier anyone has developed,” said Huang.
“This on-chip sputum liquefier is a significant advance regarding our goal of developing a point-of-care diagnostic device that will determine the type of inflammation present in the lungs of asthmatics,” said Stewart J Levine, from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
“This will allow health care providers to individualise asthma treatments for each patient and advance the goal of bringing precision medicine into clinical practice,” said Levine.