Low-cost, 3-D paper sensors invented

Low-cost, 3-D paper sensors invented

12:37 AM, 12th March 2012
Low-cost, 3-D paper sensors invented
This origami-inspired paper sensor, developed by chemists can be easily assembled by hand. It may soon be able to inexpensively test for diseases like malaria and HIV.

AUSTIN, US: Chemists at The University of Texas at Austin have developed a 3-D paper sensor that may be able to test for diseases such as malaria and HIV for less than 10 cents. Such low-cost, ‘point-of-care’ sensors could be incredibly useful in the developing world. One-dimensional paper sensors already being used have limitations. The folded, 3-D sensors, developed by Richard Crooks, Professor, University of Texas and Hong Liu, Doctoral Student, University of Texas can test for more substances in a smaller surface area and provide results for more complex tests.

“Anybody can fold them up. You don’t need a specialist, so you could easily imagine an NGO with some volunteers folding these things up and passing them out. They’re easy to produce, so the production could be shifted to the clientele as well,” said Crooks. George Whitesides, Chemist, Harvard University was the first to build a 3-D ‘microfluidic’ paper sensor that could test for biological targets. His sensor, however, was expensive and time-consuming to make, and was constructed in a way that limited its uses.

“They had to pattern several pieces of paper using photolithography, cut them with lasers, and then tape them together with two-sided tape. Just fold the paper, and then apply pressure,” said Liu. Within a few weeks of experiments, Liu had fabricated the sensor on one simple sheet using photolithography or simply an office printer they have in the lab. Folding it over into multiple layers takes less than a minute and requires just fingers, no tools or special alignment techniques.

According to Crooks, the principles underlying the sensor, which they’ve successfully tested on glucose and a common protein, are related to the home pregnancy test. A hydrophobic material, such as wax or photoresist, is laid down into tiny canyons on chromatography paper. It channels the sample that’s being tested, urine, blood, or saliva, to spots on the paper where test reagents have been embedded.

If the sample has whatever targets the sensor is designed to detect, it’ll react in an easily detectable manner. It might turn a specific colour, for instance, or fluoresce under a UV light. Then it can be read by eye. “Biomarkers for all kinds of diseases already exist. Basically you spot-test reagents for these markers on these paper fluidics. They’re entrapped there. Then you introduce your sample. At the end you unfold this piece of paper, and if it’s one colour, you’ve got a problem, and if not, then you’re probably fine,” said Crooks.

Crooks and Liu have also engineered a way to add a simple battery to their sensor so that it can run tests that require power. Their prototype uses aluminum foil and looks for glucose in urine. Crooks estimates that including such a battery would add only a few cents to the cost of producing the sensor.

© University of Texas at Austin News

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