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Home Chronic Disease Blood Test in Development

Drop of blood

(Alden Chadwick, Wikimedia Commons)

29 May 2019. A university chemistry lab and start-up company are developing a home monitoring device that aims to reduce repeated clinic visits by people with chronic diseases. The home testing device is a creation of University of Montreal in Quebec, Canada and the Montreal-based enterprise Nanogenecs Diagnostics, and funded by grants from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, or Nserc, and the province of Quebec.

A team from the biosensors and nanomachines lab of Alexis Vallée-Bélisle is seeking to make it easier to monitor the health of people with chronic medical conditions, often older and less mobile individuals. For example, heart and kidney diseases affect millions of people in North America, but at present, tracking the health status of people with these conditions requires tests with specimen samples taken and analyzed by skilled technicians, usually at separate labs.

“After blood samples are collected in a hospital or clinic,” says Vallée-Bélisle in a university statement, “they get sent to a central analysis lab, which is typically located off-site, then the results are forwarded to the doctor and finally shared with the patient. Our technology aims to change that, so that patients and doctors can get immediate results as part of everyday monitoring. This will allow them to take fast action if something is out of range.”

The system being developed is a device to take and analyze a small blood sample at home, much like blood glucose monitors used by people with diabetes. This device is looking for 3 other chemicals in the blood, indicators of chronic kidney disease: urea, potassium, and creatinine. High potassium levels can also be an indicator of heart failure or diabetes. The technology uses DNA strands on gold electrodes that react in the presence of target proteins.

A study published last year by Vallée-Bélisle and colleagues created sensors with derivatives of the cell signaling enzyme adenosine triphosphate that gave them the ability to switch on and off. An earlier study shows the target proteins in the presence of DNA strands exhibit steric hindrance effects, where the proteins’ interactions with the DNA strand makes them more pronounced and easier to track. With these findings, sensors could provide a signal if the target protein is in the blood sample, and require a smaller amount of protein in the blood to be sensed.

Canada’s Nserc is supporting development of the testing device with a CAD 700,000 (USD 517,300) grant. The award is made under Nserc’s Idea to Innovation program to accelerate development of promising technologies in university labs and their transfer to the Canadian companies for commercialization. The province of Quebec is also chipping in CAD 240,000 (USD 177,400). University of Montreal’s technology transfer office applied for a patent on the technology.

The collaborating business in this case is Nanogenecs Diagnostics, 3 year-old enterprise co-founded by Vallée-Bélisle, and according to the company, already attracting attention from drug maker Roche’s diagnostics division. The blood testing system is still in development, however. Vallée-Bélisle says the device can now measure urea levels, but his team is still working on electrodes to test for potassium and creatinine.

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