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Nanotechnology is being used by academics at the University of Southampton, UK, to develop low-cost, disposable blood-testing kits that can be made available to general practitioners.
Professor Peter Ashburn, Head of the Nano Research Group at the University of Southampton's School of Electronics and Computer Science and a team, which includes academic colleagues from the University's Schools of Medicine, Social Sciences and Chemistry, has just been awarded £1,330,346 by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's Nano Grand Challenge in Healthcare to develop a unique method for fabricating nanowires, so that these kits can be mass produced. This will mean that routine blood tests can be carried out in GPs' surgeries rather than needing to be sent off to laboratories to be tested.
The academics are using nanotechnology which is similar to that commonly used in computer and television displays.
According to Professor Ashburn, standard laboratory blood-testing procedures have limitations if taken out of the laboratory. As the need for fast diagnosis of complex conditions such as cancer increases, the need for portable testing kits has become more pressing.
"Standard clinical laboratory tests have limitations outside the laboratory, which can reduce the diagnostic impact of new protein biomarkers for complex conditions like cancer and chronic inflammation," said Professor Ashburn. "One-dimensional nanostructures such as nanowires are ideal for diagnosis as they can be integrated into microfluidic chips that provide a complete sensor system."
A major part of this project, which will be carried out over a three-year period, is an assessment of the sociological aspects involved in the take-up of nanotechnology in healthcare.
"We need to understand how this new mechanism for blood testing sits in relation to established organizational forms, professional knowledge and inter-professional relations," said Professor Susan Halford at the University of Southampton's School of Social Sciences.
"In particular, replacing hospital lab tests with GP-administered tests requires a whole series of subtle and highly politicized changes to the organization of healthcare. Whilst the technology holds enormous potential, if it is to deliver the socially beneficial innovation so highly prioritized in public consultation, we need to develop in-depth understanding of how it can actually come into use."
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