Assistant Professor Jinglei Ping of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department has received a Discovery Award of over $270,000 from the Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs. The goal of Ping’s research is to develop a miniaturized device for precise quantification of heavy metals in a drop of human blood at the point of care.
“Heavy metals are serious toxicants that can lead to multiple organ impairments even at low exposure levels,” says Ping. “Early screening of heavy metal in the blood allows immediate intervention to alleviate adverse health effects, but current analytical approaches have problematic sensitivity for heavy metals at low level and are usually lab-based or centralized, posing insatiable demand for high-accuracy, miniaturized, inexpensive, and rapid heavy-metal testing tools.”
The goal of Ping’s planned research is to develop a portable point-of-care diagnostic device that can precisely measure the concentration of multiple heavy metals in a finger prick of blood with sub-nanogram sensitivity in less than five minutes.
The device will be enabled by a disposable array of aptamer-functionalized microelectrodes of graphene, a carbon-based, two-dimensional material with unique bio-interfacial properties that lead to effective transduction of target-receptor binding information to electrical signals.
As Ping explains, the device, with an innovative, reference-free, sensor structure that substantially enhances measurement accuracy, will feature unprecedented sensitivity—about 300 times more sensitive than state-of-the-art, heavy-metal, blood-testing devices such as LeadCare.
“The device will be very efficient in terms of size, power, cost, time, and sample,” says Ping. “It will be handheld, powered by two AAA batteries, and inexpensive—five dollars per test and less than a hundred dollars per setup.”
He adds that “by simply using a drop of blood—about twenty microliters—the device will provide information of the blood heavy-metal levels in five minutes. Even better, the device will be multiplexed to allow simultaneous quantification of many different types of heavy metals.”
The device, as Ping expects, holds the potential to set a new standard for portable, heavy-metal screening and diagnosis, thus enabling largescale early assessment of heavy-metal exposure, translating benchtop investigations into health outcomes, and promoting the understanding of diseases, such as sleep disorders, that are induced by exposure to heavy metals. (April 2019)