Help from Kelp

Researchers at Rice University have used inexpensive size-tunable microsponges derived from seaweed to store biomarkers in a device the size of a credit card which can be magnified and viewed by a microscope assembly the size of a toaster.

That makes for one long sentence, but for a sensor much smaller and less expensive than those currently used to diagnose a range of human afflictions. Ingenious, actually.

Microsponges derived from seaweed may help diagnose heart disease, cancers, HIV and other diseases quickly and at far lower cost than current clinical methods. The microsponges are an essential component of Rice University’s Programmable Bio-Nano-Chip (PBNC) and the focus of a new paper in the journal Small.

Microsponges from seaweed may save lives

There are several advantages to this process. The microsponge material, agarose, from seaweed, is inexpensive, familiar (to lab workers), and the pore size is scalable. The sponges are placed in microchannels etched into a base the size of a credit card, bathed in biomarkers which glow in the presence of specific antibodies. Since they are three-dimensional they glow much more strongly than markers in current technology, and the sponge material is transparent in water, so the signal is not obscured.

These efficiencies all lead to a diagnostic device that is smaller, more efficient, and less expensive to manufacture. Like I said, ingenious.

Now about that acronym…

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