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IBM's new nanoscale exosome sorting technology could lead to home diagnostic tools

It’s long been understood that early disease detection is the key to successful treatments. But annual checkups with a doctor might not be frequent enough to help. So imagine if you could forego a trip to the doctor’s office and detect any disease with a simple urine or saliva test at home.

New research from IBM could lead to lab-on-a-chip virus detection technology that would enable let patients monitor their health by analyzing saliva or urine samples at home.

Specifically, IBM has made a breakthrough in nanoscale deterministic lateral displacement (DLD) -- a method of separating viruses and other health threats from DNA in fluid samples. The process kind of works like a pachinko machine, albeit less random: Fluids are filtered through a series of tiny pillars that separate elements by size. The technology has been used in the past to isolate parasites and other larger targets.

(image source www.nature.com)

Now, IBM has used silicon technologies to build a nanoscale DLD process capable of targeting exosomes, demonstrating that a DLD can be used to filter obects in the 20 to 110 nanometer scale. That's small enough to detect viruses or markers that could be associated with potential cancers.

DLD has been used to sort and separate micrometer-scale organisms, like parasites, but it has never been used for sorting nanoscale targets, like viruses. (See Jonas Tegenfeldt and Stefan Holms’ video below.)

The IBM team believe that within a year it will be possible to determine whether this device can sort and detect viruses from biological fluids, the key requirements for generating a mobile, easy-to-us,e and rapid diagnostic platform.

Naturally, it's pretty early in the research, and IBM says it will need more time to figure out if this kind of technology could feasibly and reliably be used to analyze fluids. If it can, however, it could lead to more affordable, compact methods of detecting illnesses -- and possibly in-home devices for self-monitoring, and open the door for new early-treatment options.

Source: Nature, Spectrum,

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