A UNL scientist is refining nationally recognized plasma-extraction technology to develop a cost-effective method to prescreen for diseases in parts of the world without ready access to blood testing.
One day, said Jiri Adamec, a UNL biochemist, this technology could allow people to take their own blood sample with a mere finger prick and blot it onto a small card. There, the plasma would be separated from the whole blood onto a screen and the image uploaded via cell phone to a medical lab, where technicians could determine from the color the sample produces whether its sender could have a serious disease.
"This would be a pre-screening, not a diagnostic test," Adamec said.
Further testing of the patient would be necessary.
Adamec's UNL research builds on his previous collaboration with colleagues who developed the plasma separation technology while at Purdue University, which he and his colleagues commercialized through their private firm Novilytic, L.L.C. of West Lafayette, Ind.
The Noviplex Card, introduced earlier this year, is expected to be the first of a series of products and technologies to enable routine, rapid spectral analysis of biological samples with minimal human intervention. The discovery was recently named among R&D Magazine's 100 most technologically significant products introduced during the previous year. In addition, Novilytic received $1.1 million in NIH Small Business Innovation Research funding for Phase I and Phase II research to develop Noviplex technology and associated applications involving detection of Vitamin D and other biomarkers.
Adamec, who came to UNL in 2010, said traditional blood tests, critical to modern health care, require a phlebotomist to draw a sample and a well-equipped lab for analysis; those are luxuries in many parts of the world. This new technology "will circumvent this age-old process, making it possible for a physician or individual to prepare their own sample anywhere by placing a drop of blood from a finger-stick on a small paper card that is mailed or transported to a laboratory."
This technology eliminates the need to travel to a lab before visiting a physician and requires no phlebotomy, special training, centrifugation, refrigeration or other laboratory processing. Blood samples can be mailed, samples are easily stored dry for future reference, and a very small volume of blood is required for plasma sample collection.
Here at UNL, Adamec is pursuing research to hone the Noviplex Card from a mere collection device to a pre-screening tool. The plasma blot could show by its color and intensity whether certain biomarkers are present that could indicate such ailments as cancer and liver disease or exposure to certain bacteria and viruses.
Adamec emphasized that this would be a pre-screening only and its findings would require further testing to confirm, but it could serve as an initial, cost-effective indicator of potential disease to people in developing countries, or even in parts of the United States, far from health care.
"This is a very sensitive issue," Adamec acknowledged of the technology. Users of the card would not be able to determine for themselves what the colors and corresponding intensities mean; that would require analysis by a medical expert.
This technology is some years away from commercial use; FDA approval likely would take five years, and development of cell phone technology for transmission could take three.
"This is where we think medicine will go in the future," Adamec said. "This brings health care to the people with a very simple device."