Researchers develop mini lab to diagnose infectious diseases with single drop of blood

Researchers from the University of Toronto developed a laboratory the size of shoebox to complete blood testing in remote environments, rapidly identifying if a patient possesses antibodies to certain infectious diseases by using only a drop of blood, according to STAT.

The device is named the MR Box, short for measles and rubella, which the scientists initially tested for. The MR Box still needs some adjustments, but the researchers aim to use the device to test for numerous diseases for the purpose of outbreak control and research in areas where conventional lab support is not easily accessible.  

The researchers tested the device at a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, where they looked at pinprick blood samples for antibodies to measles and rubella. The researchers said versions of the shoebox lab developed in the future could test for antibodies to other pathogens and for the pathogens themselves.

Antibody testing can determine if a patient has been previously infected with a disease agent or vaccinated against it, which could help outbreak responders identify which patients were or were not infected.

"That is the dream, that this type of system with its flexibility could be sent out into the world and really be used very flexibly depending on the conditions on the ground," senior author Aaron Wheeler PhD, who leads the lab, told STAT. The research group's paper was published in Science Translational Medicine.

To determine the device's capability, the scientists drew vials of blood and tested them in a conventional laboratory from the approximately 140 study participants. Results showed the MR Box was correct 86 percent of the time for measles and 84 percent of the time for rubella. The lab is working to boost those results and subsequently tested the device in the Democratic Republic of Congo for a second pilot project.

The researchers are working to release plans for their software and hardware in the public domain, said researcher Darius Rackus, PhD.

More articles on clinical leadership and infection control: 
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Hospital Quality Institute CEO: The facts about Stanford's patient safety record

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