Compact TestThe design of the device was inspired by a glucose meter. Image courtesy Stephanie Mitchell/Harvard Staff Photographer.


August 31, 2014

Harvard researchers have developed a medical device that can be used by healthcare workers in lower economic areas to help monitor diabetes, detect malaria, identify environmental pollutants, and perform other tests that often require expensive medical machinery.

The device costs around $25 to produce, weighs just two ounces, and is about the size of a pack of cigarettes. It was modeled after the last generation of glucose monitoring devices, and is already in use in field trials in India.

In addition to conducting tests, the device can also send data over cell phones to distant physicians who can relay a possible diagnosis, instructions, and possible treatment options. Alex Nemiroski, lead author of a paper on the device recently spoke about the simplicity of the design to the Harvard Gazette.

“We designed it to be as close as possible to a glucose meter, because that’s familiar to people,” he said. “There are two buttons. Select the test and press ‘go.’ It should be as much of a no-brainer as possible.”

Despite being similar in design to many modern day glucose-monitoring devices, Nemiroski set out to design a device with more diagnostic capabilities. He decided to focus on an electromechanical detector that can measure the voltage or current generated in liquids. These measurements can detect characteristic signatures of the liquid’s contents, in an effort to diagnose various diseases based on the presence of any foreign substances in the liquid.

The equipment will offer a much more affordable alternative to the currently technology that the device aims to replace. According to Nemiroski, some of the current diagnostic equipment can cost up to $50,000, and the cost to process and analyze the data can be quite costly as well.

With such a simple, portable, and affordable device, Nemiroski hopes that the design will go a long way toward helping third world healthcare professionals have access to reliable, efficient diagnostic tools. In resource-limited environments, such a device could be revolutionary in both the diagnostic process, as well as processing test results.

Despite its compact size, the device contains a variety of diagnostic capabilities. A single handheld device is designed to measure glucose levels in the blood, heavy metals that may be present in drinking water, sodium concentration in urine, and the presence of malarial antigens for clinical testing.

The device is one of several recent developments in mobile medical technology reaching underdeveloped nations, and is part of a movement to help provide resources to areas that so desperately need them.

The multi-functionality of the device coupled with its affordable and compact design may open the doors to advanced diagnostic technology in underdeveloped nations, who have never before had access to such technology. If clinical trials continue to prove successful, Nemiroski’s device could be the first of many innovative handheld devices designed to revolutionize affordable healthcare.


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