09:52pm Saturday 19 October 2019

​Singapore and US scientists develop rapid test for liver toxicity

This “lab-in-a-needle” device can provide instant results on the health of a liver.

This new medical device will be effective, for example, in quickly detecting liver toxicity, a common side effect of chemotherapy.

The compact kit can take patient samples, prepare them for testing, evaluate toxicity and display the results in one simple process.

Current tests entail multiple steps and results could take several days. Through this new kit, results for toxicity can be obtained in 30 minutes, allowing doctors to immediately discuss treatment options with patients.

This new device offers the convenience of diagnostic testing outside of a clinical setting, such as at home or in the field.

It is the brainchild of a joint research team from Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore), A*STAR Singapore Institute of Manufacturing Technology (SIMTech) and the Houston Methodist Hospital Research Institute (affiliated with Cornell University) in the United States.

This invention and its effectiveness are explained in the recent issue of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s Lab on a Chip, a prestigious scientific journal.

NTU Professor Joseph Chang, who is involved in the design and construction of the prototype, said, “What our prototype shows is that samples can be prepared and analysed through it, eliminating the need for wet laboratory work and manpower.

“Our new method significantly reduces time, manpower and costs and yet has the same accurate results as the gold standards of current liver toxicity tests,” added Prof Chang, who is also the Director of VIRTUS Centre of Excellence in Integrated Circuit Design at NTU’s School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

Dr Stephen T.C. Wong, Chair of the Department of Systems Medicine and Bioengineering at Houston Methodist Research Institute, said, “We used the concept of lab on a chip, which compresses the entire function of a laboratory diagnostic test onto a tiny microfluidics chip, to create a lab in a needle.” Dr Wong is a professor of radiology, neuroscience, pathology and laboratory medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell University.

Dr Wang Zhiping, Director of Research Programmes at A*STAR SIMTech, said, “Our goal is to integrate sample acquisition and preparation into one device, a significant challenge that has slowed the development of point-of-care testing.”

How it works

The “lab-in-a-needle” test kit has two key components: a microfluidic chip that extracts and cleans the required test sample from the blood, while the second chip runs the various tests on the purified blood sample.

The team successfully proved that their lab-in-a-needle approach was accurate in experiments using today’s most sensitive and widely used bio-markers to detect liver toxicity.

Next step – developing a miniaturised test kit

“Our next steps are to integrate the sample preparation and analysis chips into a miniaturised device to create the first full prototype of the lab-in-a-needle,” said Dr Wang.

“A*STAR SIMTech will tap on its manufacturing process capabilities to develop the lab-in-a-needle device cost effectively and can be scaled up for mass production. This will enable the mobile technology to be expanded to test for a number of health conditions in outpatient settings or outside hospitals,” added the principal scientist in microfluidics.

Contributing to this work also were NTU PhD students Lim Geok Soon and Zhang Lei; SIMTech’s Dr Wu Ruige; and Dr Kemi Cui, from Houston Methodist and Weill Cornell Medical College of Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

The study was funded by Houston Methodist, NTU, and A*STAR.

Lab on a Chip is ranked in the top 10 of the Royal Society of Chemistry’s family of journals.


Media contact:

Lester Kok
Corporate Communications Office
Nanyang Technological University
Email: lesterkok@ntu.edu.sg

About Nanyang Technological University

A research-intensive public university, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) has 33,500 undergraduate and postgraduate students in the colleges of Engineering, Business, Science, Humanities, Arts, & Social Sciences, and its Interdisciplinary Graduate School. It has a new medical school, the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, set up jointly with Imperial College London.

NTU is also home to world-class autonomous institutes – the National Institute of Education, S Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Earth Observatory of Singapore, and Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering – and various leading research centres such as the Nanyang Environment & Water Research Institute (NEWRI), Energy Research Institute @ NTU (ERI@N) and the Institute on Asian Consumer Insight (ACI).
A fast-growing university with an international outlook, NTU is putting its global stamp on Five Peaks of Excellence: Sustainable Earth, Future Healthcare, New Media, New Silk Road, and Innovation Asia.

The University’s main campus has been named one of the Top 15 Most Beautiful in the World. NTU also has a campus in Novena, Singapore’s medical district.

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