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Now a new tool for diagnostics, crime-scene forensics

Researchers have developed a potential new tool for medical diagnostics, testing food and water for contamination and crime-scene forensics.

world Updated: Jun 08, 2010 14:48 IST

Researchers have developed a potential new tool for medical diagnostics, testing food and water for contamination and crime-scene forensics.

The technique uses a combination of light and electric fields to position droplets and tiny particles, such as bacteria, viruses and DNA, which are contained inside the drops.

"This new hybrid technique is universal in the sense that we can manipulate a range of droplet and particle sizes, going all the way from microlitre drops to particles a few nanometres long," said Steven T Wereley.

Wereley is a professor of mechanical engineering at Purdue University who is working with mechanical engineering doctoral student Aloke Kumar.

Ordinarily, the particles inside droplets are detected when they randomly fall on a sensor's surface.

However, the new method could improve sensor efficiency by actively moving particles to specific regions on an electronic chip for detection or analysis.

"Sensors are one of the immediate applications of this technology," said Kumar, who may continue the work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Oak Ridge National Lab.

The method offers promise for future "lab-on-a-chip" technology, using electronic chips to analyse biological samples for medical and environmental applications.

Sensors based on the technique could make possible a new class of chemical analyses with point-of-care devices in a doctor's office or hospitals.

Such sensors might be used to quickly analyze blood, urine and other bodily fluids for a range of applications, including drug screening; paternity testing; detecting coronary artery disease, tumours and various inherited diseases including cystic fibrosis etc.

"This technique also would be good for DNA tests, such as those used on the TV programme 'CSI,' to identify crime suspects using only a small blood sample," Wereley said, according to a Purdue release.