Researchers at MIT's Little Devices lab
have developed a set of modular blocks
that can be put together in different ways
to produce diagnostic devices for various functions,
such as infection detection and monitoring.
These plug-and-play devices are low cost, reliable, re-usable,
and require little expertise to assemble.
The components consist of a sheet
of paper sandwiched between a plastic or metal
block and a plastic cover.
The blocks are color-coded by function,
making it easier to assemble for various uses.
They are about half an inch on each side
and snap together in different ways.
Some of the blocks contain channels for liquid samples
to flow straight through.
Some have turns and mix multiple reagents together,
allowing the user to create diagnostics
based on one reaction or a series of reactions.
Currently, this system is being used
by scientists at other academic labs outside of MIT.
The modular predefined blocks allow the labs
to forget about developing the hardware
and focus strictly on the biochemistry.
Using this system, called ampli blocks,
the MIT team is working on devices
to detect cancer, as well as Zika virus
and other infectious diseases.
The blocks are inexpensive, and they do not
require refrigeration or special handling,
making them appealing for use in the developing world.
Paper diagnostics are usually write one, read once systems.
However, ampli blocks can be sterilized
in use for additional reactions without additional hardware
The MIT team says their long-term goal
is to enable small, low resources laboratories
to generate their own libraries of plug-and-play diagnostics
to treat their local patient populations independently.
They have already sent them to labs in Chile and Nicaragua,
where they have been used to develop devices
to monitor tuberculosis treatment
and to test for a genetic variant that makes malaria more
difficult to treat.
The team is now working on tests for human papillomavirus
and Lyme disease, among others.
Since the ultimate goal is to get the technology
into the hands of small labs globally,
the researchers are investigating large scale
manufacturing techniques and hope to launch a company soon
so they can manufacture and distribute
the kits around the world.