New device can diagnose metabolic disorders more effectively

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Metabolic disorders like diabetes and osteoporosis are rapidly increasing worldwide, especially in developing countries.

Diagnosing these conditions typically requires blood tests, but many remote areas lack the necessary healthcare infrastructure.

As a result, many people remain undiagnosed and untreated.

Traditional diagnostic methods are labor-intensive, invasive, and time-consuming, making real-time monitoring impractical, particularly in rural populations.

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center have developed a promising new device that uses blood to generate electricity and measure its conductivity.

This innovation could revolutionize healthcare by making diagnostics available in any location. Their research, “Millifluidic Nanogenerator Lab-on-a-Chip Device for Blood Electrical Conductivity Monitoring at Low Frequency,” was published in Advanced Materials.

As nanotechnology and microfluidics advance, there’s an opportunity to create lab-on-a-chip devices that overcome the limitations of current medical care.

Amir Alavi, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, believes these technologies could transform healthcare by offering quick and convenient diagnostics, improving patient outcomes and the effectiveness of medical services.

Blood electrical conductivity is crucial for assessing various health parameters and detecting medical conditions.

This conductivity is mainly influenced by the concentration of essential electrolytes, such as sodium and chloride ions, which are vital for many physiological processes. Understanding these conductivity levels helps doctors make accurate diagnoses.

“Blood is essentially a water-based environment with various molecules that conduct or impede electric currents,” explained Dr. Alan Wells, the medical director of UPMC Clinical Laboratories. “For instance, glucose is an electrical conductor. By measuring how it affects conductivity, we can make on-the-spot diagnoses.”

Despite its importance, measuring human blood conductivity has been challenging due to issues like electrode polarization, limited access to blood samples, and maintaining blood temperature.

Measuring conductivity at frequencies below 100 Hz is particularly difficult but necessary for understanding blood’s electrical properties and basic biological processes.

To address these challenges, the research team developed an innovative, portable millifluidic nanogenerator lab-on-a-chip device that measures blood conductivity at low frequencies.

The device uses blood as a conductive material within an integrated triboelectric nanogenerator (TENG).

The blood-based TENG system converts mechanical energy into electricity through triboelectrification, which involves the exchange of electrons between contacting materials, generating a voltage difference that drives an electric current.

The team analyzes the voltage generated by the device under specific conditions to determine blood’s electrical conductivity. This self-powering mechanism allows for the miniaturization of the blood-based nanogenerator.

Additionally, the researchers used AI models to estimate blood electrical conductivity based on the voltage patterns produced by the device.

To test its accuracy, the team compared the device’s results with traditional tests, and the new method proved successful. This breakthrough means that blood tests can be conducted where people live, making diagnostics more accessible.

Moreover, blood-powered nanogenerators can function inside the body, wherever blood is present, enabling self-powered diagnostics using local blood chemistry.

This portable, innovative device holds great promise for improving healthcare access and outcomes, especially in remote and underserved areas.

By making blood tests quick, convenient, and non-invasive, this technology could significantly enhance the detection and treatment of metabolic disorders worldwide.

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The research findings can be found in Advanced Materials.

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