A microchip could diagnose diabetes

Last week we brought you news of microchip contraception, this week it’s microchip diagnosis. While this one doesn’t go under your skin, it does want your blood. But only so it can assess your health. Researchers from Stanford University have developed a chip that can both diagnose diabetes and detect people who are at risk of developing it.

A small sample of a patient’s blood is added to the microchip, and it glows fluorescent when it detects auto-antibodies that attack a person’s insulin-producing cells, a key marker of type 1 diabetes. The chip is coated with tiny particles of gold which intensify the chemical reaction, making it easy to spot. One positive antibody signals a risk of developing diabetes, while if several are positive, the risk is over 90%. ‘That’s one of the best crystal balls that exists in medicine,’ says Dr Brian Feldman, an assistant professor of paediatric endocrinology at Stanford University School of Medicine and the senior author of the research paper, which was published in the journal Nature Medicine.

Until now, tests designed to detect these specific antibody markers were expensive and involved staff handling radioactive materials. This new device is non-toxic and costs just $20 (around £12) to make. Plus, it’s fast: results take less than two hours.

It’s estimated that 3 million Americans and 435,000 people in the UK have type 1 diabetes. Unlike type 2, which is associated with an unhealthy lifestyle, type 1 is not preventable, but is easier to manage if found earlier. Although it’s usually diagnosed in children, it has been increasing in adults, and scientists don’t know why. If the use of tests like this can identify people at risk sooner, it could lead to better treatment and perhaps eventually to prevention.

Dr Feldman, his colleague Dr Rajiv Kumar, and Feldman’s sister Lisa Babel have started a new company, IGI Stat, to continue their work and are now filing for a patent and seeking regulatory approval for the chip as a medical device.

Image via William Warby’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley