Wearable lab on a chip could ID bacteria, cancer

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Wearables could one day soon analyze sweat for certain proteins to detect breast and lung cancer. A study, published in Lab on a Chip, described the development of biosensor technology for wearable devices to monitor health and identify bacteria and viruses.

Engineers from Rutgers University invented the lab on a chip with electronically barcoding microparticles, giving diseases unique barcodes. The technology can identify bacteria, viruses and other pollutants. The device is being adapted to additionally scan for biomarkers like the prostate-specific antigen.

"This is really important in the context of personalized medicine or personalized health monitoring," said Mehdi Javanmard, an assistant professor in the department of electrical and computer engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick. "Our technology enables true labs on chips. We're talking about platforms the size of a USB flash drive or something that can be integrated onto an Apple Watch, for example, or a Fitbit."

With the electronic detection of microparticles, researchers are able to fit the complex testing system within a wearable device. In testing, researchers reported the sensors to be more than 95 percent accurate in identifying biomarkers.

"Imagine a small tool that could analyze a swab sample of what's on the doorknob of a bathroom or front door and detect influenza or a wide array of other virus particles," said Javanmard. "Imagine ordering a salad at a restaurant and testing it for E. coli or Salmonella bacteria. That kind of tool could be commercially available within about two years, and health monitoring and diagnostic tools could be available within about five years.”