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Point-of-Need Analysis: Diagnosis on the Home Couch

Photo: Man making a blood sugar test at home

© panthermedia.net / Ljupco Smokovski

Sakari Kulmala, Professor of Analytical Chemistry at Aalto University (Finland), is developing analytical equipment with applications ranging from health care to the identification of counterfeit products.

"When making an organic synthesis, for example, it is important to ascertain if the desired substance has been successfully synthesised. In traditional analysis, we take a sample and analyse it. Nowadays much use is made of online analytics, in which measurements are constantly being made with the help of sensors and a computer", Kulmala says.

According to him, the need for decentralised analysis is constantly growing. As the expression suggests, Point-of-Need analysis takes place at the location where the results are needed. In health care the corresponding expression is Point-of-Care analysis (POC). This means making an analysis at a patient's place of treatment, a retail health clinic, or possibly at the bedside in a hospital. The idea is to get closer to the patient.

‘There are already more than 1000 health kiosks in the United States where it is possible to have an allergy test done quickly, or to identify a component in urine or saliva. The tests can also be made in the traditional manner from blood. The number of these tests is growing rapidly,’ Kulmala says.

In Finland, municipally run health kiosk activities have placed an emphasis on preventative health care, but the development of analytic tools could make it possible to increase the availability of services and to steer the resources of health clinics toward more demanding studies, when the basic tests could be done without a doctor's referral.

"We are developing an assay cartridge, which is easily adapted to health centre activities, or eventually even to tests that can be conducted at home," Kulmala explains. "Our analysis is based on luminescence, which is the production of light for measuring the amount of the analyte - that is, whatever substance is being analysed. In chemiluminescence the light comes from a chemical reaction, while in fluorescence and phosphorescence we have a photon from the very beginning, which is absorbed in the luminophore, producing a new photon with slightly less energy".

Kulmala's idea is that all of the chemistry that is needed for carrying out an analysis is contained in a disposable cartridge - the user simply needs to add the substance to be analysed, such as a drop of salive, urine or blood. In addition to the cassette, making the analysis requires a device to measure the luminescence. "The simplest measurements can be made with a smartphone," Kulmala says.

"A separate reading device is needed for more sensitive analysis. This could be a device that works with an efficient LED and communicates with a mobile phone, tablet computer or laptop via USB or Bluetooth."

In addition to health care, small and inexpensive analysis devices could have applications in many fields, such as the quality control of foodstuffs and environmental analysis. Kulmala, along with Jouni Paltakari, Professor of Paper Converting and Packaging, has applied the idea of a marking technology that is invisible to the naked eye. The markings would also be verified with a mobile device which can communicate with data banks either by wifi or GSM.

"In 2015 product counterfeiting is expected to be a business worth 1.5 trillion. Our method can be applied to marking both the products and their packages. Thanks to mobile devices and cloud services, the product’s authenticity could be checked at all times."

COMPAMED.de; Source: Aalto University