Diagnostics on demand


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Inkjet printing innovation opens the door to instant personalised health testing

New technology from product design and development firm Cambridge Consultants is set to bring radical innovation to the diagnostics market. Ingenious use of inkjet printing techniques has made it possible to create a diagnostic test cartridge from a single sheet of paper. The breakthrough paves the way for sophisticated low-cost tests that can be adapted at the touch of a button – and printed in quantities ranging from one to millions.

Ageing populations, the drive for healthcare efficiency and the rapid rise of ‘consumer healthcare’ – where people manage their own health and well-being – are fuelling an increase in point-of-care (POC) diagnostics. But the high cost of POC tests compared with centralised lab tests is a challenge.

The new XylemDx concept developed by Cambridge Consultants opens the door to instant personalised testing at the doctor’s surgery or pharmacy for signs ranging from the latest strain of the flu virus to specific biomarkers for genetic heart conditions. In developing countries, it could play a crucial role in pandemic monitoring – providing a simple, low-cost way of testing large numbers of people during an outbreak of Ebola, for example.

The XylemDx technology turns a sheet of paper into any one of a variety of different diagnostic tests, each of which can be produced on the same fabrication device. Each piece of paper can be configured with a bespoke set of test modules – for example, electronic, thermal, fluidic, optical or biological reagent modules – before being folded concertina-style into the traditional test cartridge shape. For diagnostic manufacturers, this opens up the possibility of low-cost prototyping and development, as well as a universal production methodology.

The test modules are printed on the paper using inkjet-based printing techniques that use wax to lay down fluidic pathways, electronic ink containing silver nanoparticles to allow electrical connectivity and so on. Cambridge Consultants has a long track record in this field, having spun out several inkjet printing specialists – such as Domino and Xaar – over the last 15 years.

The paper test cartridges can be configured for a range of samples – such as blood, urine, saliva or mucus – and a variety of readers, from complex diagnostic instruments through to a reader on the back of a smartphone or a simple USB-powered device. The ‘toolbox’ of modules makes it easy to customise a test for a particular patient or specific strain of disease. And – once regulatory approval is secured – the digital fabrication technique gives the flexibility to print tests in any quantity.

“Diagnostic tests underpin crucial healthcare decisions so it’s vital they are as fast, accurate, flexible and cost-effective as possible,” said John Pritchard, head of diagnostics at Cambridge Consultants. “Early diagnosis and better monitoring of conditions reduces expensive complications and keeps people out of hospital – as well as improving quality of life.

“Cambridge Consultants has a rich history of inkjet printing and we’ve now brought that expertise to the world of POC diagnostics. Combined with our extensive scientific and engineering knowledge – including our long track record in the low-cost, high-performance optics that many of these tests require – it’s resulted in a radical new way of providing diagnostics on demand.”

Cambridge Consultants will be demonstrating the XylemDx concept at the 2015 AACC Annual Meeting, July 26-30, at the Georgia World Congress Center in Atlanta, USA, stand 2807.

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