German researchers have created a microchip that can monitor people's health from the comfort of their homes

Lab-on-a-chip for the home to help elderly

A mobile wireless miniature lab-on-a-chip (LOC) system designed by German engineers could help monitor the health of elderly people from the comfort of their homes.

The non-invasive diagnostic system contains technology to analyse blood samples and detect specific markers in the patient’s blood as well as sensors to monitor blood pressure and heart rate.

The technology, developed by researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology, could help alert medical professionals to abnormalities in the health status of vulnerable elderly people and those suffering from cardiac disease, without requiring them to travel to hospitals and doctor’s offices.

The home unit aggregates the sensor data and sends the results to the patient's doctor or a medical centre via a secure Internet connection. The doctor can send his or her feedback to the patient over a smartphone app, which presents the data in an easily understandable form.

The compact diagnostic unit incorporates smart software-evaluating data from a set of wirelessly connected wearable sensors including a pulse oximeter with a Bluetooth module in the patient's ear or a blood pressure monitor.  

Using a nanopotentiostat, an electrochemical sensor, the system can measure the patient's glucose, lactate or cholesterol level. In addition, a fluorescence sensor using a laser diode captures the concentration of several cardiac markers.

"Miniaturised sensors in the home unit, which can detect traces of the markers down to the nano level, analyse the blood sample," said Professor Harald Mathis, head of the Biomolecular Optical Systems department of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Information Technology FIT.   

To detect the risk-indicating markers in the blood, the patient must extract a drop of blood from a prick in his or her finger and insert that blood into a special cartridge equipped with a diagnostic microchip.

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