Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a tiny sensor — made from a 12-cent LED light, aluminum foil, gelatin, milk protein and a couple of other inexpensive materials — that could help prevent damage and save people’s lives by detecting acute pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is an inflammation of the pancreas that can lead to abdominal pain, fever, shock and sometimes death. The sensor needs no outside energy source and starts its reaction when a drop of patient’s blood is inserted in the sensor. If within an hour the LED light turns on, pancreatitis has been detected.
“We’ve turned Reynold’s Wrap, JELL-O and milk into a way to look for organ failure,” said Brian Zaccheo, a graduate student in the lab of Richard Crooks, professor of chemistry and biochemistry. The device gets to work when a sample of blood is placed on a layer of gelatin and milk protein inside the device. If a patient has pancreatitis, their blood will contain high levels of trypsin, which will melt the gelatin and milk protein. Then a drop of sodium hydroxide — or lye — is added to the device. If the trypsin was high enough to melt the gelatin, the layer of aluminum foil will be unveiled and the sodium hydroxide will dissolve it.
Once the aluminum foil is dissolved a current forms between a magnesium anode and an iron salt at the cathode and a red LED light illuminates. The whole process takes about an hour. If the light goes on, pancreatitis is detected, if it does not the patient’s pancreas is healthy. “In essence, the device is a battery having a trypsin-selective switch that closes the circuit between the anode and cathode,” the researchers wrote in a paper published in Analytical Chemistry. This device has promise for medicine in the developing world where trained professionals are sometimes scarce, as Zaccheo said, “all you need for this, for instance, is to know how to use a dropper and a timer.”
Via Science Daily