Washington (AFP) – A cheap, portable device can warn of a person’s vulnerability to infectious diseases like measles, which kills tens of thousands of people each year, mainly in developing countries, researchers said Wednesday.
The test, called the Measles-Rubella Box (MR Box), uses a finger-prick volume of blood to detect the presence of antibodies against measles and rubella in only 35 minutes.
Measles kills about 134,000 children per year, and rubella causes some 100,000 children to be born with birth defects such as deafness.
Researchers brought the device — which is about the size of a toaster oven and uses “lab-on-a-chip” technology made with inkjet printers to manipulate blood samples — to the Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya where they tried it on 144 children and caregivers.
“The system had a good ability to determine whether a person was at risk for measles and rubella infection,” Amy Summers, an epidemiologist at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who was involved with the field trial in Kenya, told reporters on a conference call.
“This was done by detecting whether a person had antibodies to either measles or rubella in their body, either from a prior infection of measles and rubella or from being vaccinated.”
Its accuracy “matched the international laboratory-standard reference tests of the Kenyan Medical Research Institute for 86 percent of measles samples, and 91 percent of rubella samples,” said study co-author Darius Rackus, post-doctoral research fellow at the University of Toronto.
The cost per microfluidic cartridge was about $6 at the time of the field study in 2016, but technological advances have since lowered it to about $1 or less, he said.
Researchers hope the device will be useful in remote settings or places where people are at risk of vaccine-preventable diseases and other illnesses.
“This technology would be very useful in places where people are displaced by humanitarian emergencies, which right now could be in, for instance, with the forced displacement of the Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh,” said Summers.
“So populations who are displaced by humanitarian emergencies are especially vulnerable to vaccine preventable diseases” because they often have low vaccination coverage and suffer from overcrowding and malnutrition, she said.
Co-author Aaron Wheeler, a professor at the University of Toronto, said his lab is currently working on a similar lab-on-a-chip test for malaria and other tests for Zika virus.
“And of course, there are many more tests than we have the manpower or financial resources to develop, but that is the dream, that this type of system with its flexibility could be sent out into the world,” he said.
The study appears in the April 25 edition of the journal Science Translational Medicine.