I wrote in a previous article about one of several designs being aimed at identifying illnesses and other medical conditions as early as possible. This is a field of research that has taken a large part of the scientific community by storm, prompting several different innovative methods and outside the box designs to emerge in recent years. Researchers at UCLA are developing new “smart” technology that uses algorithms to detect proteins, cancer biomarkers, and viruses for a fraction of the cost it usually takes to identify the same conditions. Known as plasmonic sensing, the process involves shining light upon metallic nanostructures, which strengthens the local electric field. The interactions that occur between the amplified electric field and selected molecule can be measured, revealing information about molecular concentration and kinetics.
Although scientists have been familiar with these methods for years, they face enormous challenges outside of the laboratory, mainly due to the fact that large expensive equipment and instruments are required in this process. The main goal for the plasmonic sensory reader is to use algorithms from large amounts of data to “learn” the intricate trends and statistics, and predict outcomes with exceptional accuracy. From these trials, researchers hope to apply plasmonic sensing into a mobile less-expensive device that outperforms conventional sensor designs on the market.
The device prototype is portable, lightweight, and consists of 3D-printed plastic housing, four light-emitting diodes, and a camera. The machine learning algorithm selects four of the most optimal LEDs from thousands to develop the most precise design and computational method for quantifying the sensor output. Researchers aim to provide a design that other researchers and engineers can use for developing other low-cost optical sensor readers in several different healthcare and environmental monitoring applications.
Researchers produced flexible plasmonic sensors using newly discovered nanofabrication methods that are inexpensive and robust enough to be disposable. These sensors are capable of “surface modification,” which ensures only selected molecules can interact with the amplified electric field. The biochemistry aspect is equivalent to a pair of complementary puzzle pieces with one piece attached to the sensor surface that prevents other pieces (besides its complement) to interfere with measurements. These sensors can be “modified” to capture any number of viruses, cancer cells, bacteria, and other specific bio-targets.
To use the plasmonic reader, a small sample of fluid is required, which is applied to the sensor surface using a disposable microchip. The sensor fits into a cartridge that’s inserted into the device, which automatically measures and analyzes the sample. According to the researchers involved, a plasmonic reader could even be designed as an attachment for a mobile cellphone, which would further drive down costs and take advantage of Internet of Things connectivity, along with the communicative power of smartphones to help make accurate diagnostics.
Filed Under: M2M (machine to machine)