At-Home Testing for Cancer, Malaria in the Works

In the near future, people the world over may soon be able to test themselves at home for conditions as diverse as malaria, ovarian cancer and large intestinal cancer. Testing with small strips of paper, much like a diabetic finger stick strip, will be possible.

Researchers in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at the Ohio State University were looking for a solution to patient-friendly testing methods with reliable results to meet the current and future demands of the world’s population.

Dr. Abraham K. Badu-Tawiah, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemisty at OSU first conceived of the process using small strips of paper that are specially prepared to receive and safely store a drop of blood for transport to a lab where mass spectrometry will be used to determine the results. Badu-Tawiah explained that his motivation to develop such a test was to develop an inexpensive and durable testing method for malaria.

Malaria, a disease most prevalent in Africa and southeast Asia, sickens millions of people each year with more than 400,000 deaths attributed to the infection. The remoteness of many parts of Africa and some parts of southeast Asia from formal health care make prompt diagnosis nonexistent.

The paper strips are so small that several dozen can be made from one standard sheet of printer paper, with each test strip being about the size of a postage stamp. The two small sheets of paper are held together with double-sided adhesive tape, then run through a standard ink jet printer. Rather than traditional ink, wax ink is used to create channels that will hold the blood sample, stable for at least 30 days, while the paper also holds synthetic chemical probes that will react to the antibodies produced by various diseases.

It is the embedded chemical probes and their reactions to the presence or absence of antibodies that will be read through mass spectrometry. The test strips are estimated to have a price of $.50 each.

Once the test strip has been mailed to the laboratory for analysis, the patient need do nothing further unless the test is positive. At that point, it would be necessary to see a health care practitioner.

At this time the research team has successfully tested the strips to detect malaria, ovarian cancer and cancer of the large intestine, but Badu-Tawiah said the same testing protocol can be developed to detect any condition that causes the human body to create antibodies in response to that condition.

In addition to its application in remote areas of the world, the patent-pending paper test strips would allow individuals to test for certain conditions themselves, without the need to first see a doctor, much like diabetics do who monitor their own blood sugar levels. Use of this testing method could help to reduce anxiety in people who have family histories of certain illnesses or are waiting long periods of time before being able to see a doctor.

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