Let's talk about lab water
Let's talk about lab water
The future of personalized medicines is reliant on next-generation gene sequencing and the correct mapping of the human genome. The next stage would be a faster response and easier access to healthcare and diagnosis for all people around the world. The various evolutions of lab-on-a-chip and point-of-care testing devices are paving the way for a potentially bright future for humanity.
We are now combining the concepts of clinical diagnostics with nanotechnology and microfluidics to look at something at the fringes of scientific possibility. At the moment the analyzers that are used take up the majority of the lab space and are capable of analyzing around 1,000 samples per day. However if you do not have an inkling as to what might be wrong with your patient you will need to take several vials of blood and test it on different instruments for different possible ailments. This is not only time consuming but also costs money.
Move over bulky clinical analyzer and welcome the baby brother of the lab, lab-on-a-chip. The concept is pretty straight-forward: a single drop of blood and you can analyze it for multiple illnesses all in one space. This saves on reagent cost, sample wastage, lab space, sample analysis and analysis time.
How long do you usually have to wait to find out what might be wrong with you? In the UK this could be anything up to 6 weeks (if you are on the publicly-funded NHS). If you are in China or Africa where access to healthcare is at a premium, this might be even longer. Lab-on-a-chip could drastically reduce the waiting time for results possibly saving in the process.
An interesting concept that could prove groundbreaking would be to make use of what we already carry around with us on a daily basis – our phones. The second phase of lab-on-a-chip could be point-of-care testing devices. The idea is to bring the testing and diagnosis straight to the patient and in the comfort of their own homes.
A lot of the software and concepts of such health technology is rapidly becoming available, allowing connected devices to track various metrics such as movement, blood pressure, heart rate, exercise regimes and levels (for example, Google Fit, HealthKit, FitBit and more).
A recent article with comments by Eric Topol, a leading American cardiologist, geneticist and researcher, suggests that diseases such as the recent Ebola outbreak could be better monitored and managed through the use of smartphones: diagnosis could be quicker, patients could have their movements tracked more easily through the maps feature of their phones. To take it one step further a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technique could be added to the phone with the camera then being used to determine whether a virus was present – all within two hours of a skin prick.
Another future potential could be using search statistics to map and possibly even pre-empt the next common outbreaks such as flu, dengue fever and tuberculosis. The study by US scientists analyzed data from 2010 to 2013 and looked at Wikipedia searches to map measured outbreaks around the world. Their thoughts are that such a study could change the way in which the world responds to epidemics. It is questionable whether such a method would work in countries where internet access is poor, but it is definitely something to look out for in the future.
The opportunities presented with this technology are endless, and could be used to drastically cut the morbidity and mortality rates of the world. There are undoubtedly a number of challenges to overcome before point-of-care devices will be the norm. Issues with regards to data privacy and protection need to be carefully addressed before such tools can be added to all smartphones around the world.
So to conclude our three part blog series we have delved into the world of gene sequencing and investigated ways in which the future of society as a whole would be brighter with personalized medicines and point-of-care testing devices. It is intriguing to think of how far the science has come from the discovery of DNA back in the 1950s, and just where the future will take us.
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