Ever find yourself leaving the hospital feeling like you paid a lot of money for a doctor to tell you to hydrate and get some sleep? Even worse are those trips where the doctor seems stumped, and orders up a slew of expensive diagnostic tests, only to find out none were necessary.
According to the American College of Physicians, Americans spend more than $200 billion a year on unnecessary medical tests. With advances in information sharing and medical technology, visiting a doctor every time you’ve got a sniffle is starting to feel outdated. If only there were a more reliable way to diagnose some things yourself to avoid these costly trips…A group of scientists at the University of Washington are working on a way to transform common office paper into medical tests that are virtually free.
The bioengineers working on this study say they wanted to find a way to make medical diagnostics more affordable, especially in developing countries. “We wanted to make the system as independent of the end applications as possible, something to not just ask a single question but many personal health questions,” said assistant professor Daniel Ratner, main author of the study. “‘Is there protein in the urine? Is this person diabetic? Do they have malaria or influenza?'” Complicated technology that requires electricity or a medical degree wouldn’t work, so the research team started with the simplest material they could think of: paper.
The researchers used a cheap, industrial solvent called divinyl sulfone that can be bought by the gallon and has been used for decades as an adhesive, reports Gizmag. The group discovered they could dilute the chemical in water, carefully control the acidity, then pour it into a Ziploc bag and add a stack of regular paper, shake for a couple of hours, and finally rinse the paper and let it dry. The dried paper felt smooth and looked empty, but it became sticky in the presence of proteins, antibodies and DNA, as well as sugars and the small-molecule drugs used to treat most medical conditions.
Now that they have proven their concept, Ratner said, they hope other groups will use the paper to develop actual diagnostic tests.