Science 6 min read

What is 'Disruptive Diagnostics' and How is it Changing Health Care?

Konstantin Kolosov | Shutterstock

Konstantin Kolosov | Shutterstock

Recent scientific advancements are spurring on innovation in disease diagnostics. Researchers from Singapore have invented technologies that promise faster and cheaper ways to diagnose diseases accurately.

Last month, a team of researchers from the National University of Singapore developed a tiny microfluidic chip that can detect minute biomolecules without lab equipment.

This major development in disruptive diagnostics is even more efficient than the label-free techniques seen in the past.

Furthermore, label-free techniques require precise engineering of nano-features in a detection chip, complex optical setups, novel nano-probes such as gold nanobots, and aggregation of nanoparticles for effective detection of bioparticles. The large amount of equipment and resources needed made this process extremely costly in both time and money.

The recent invention can detect the bioparticles more sensitively. This enhanced efficiency comes in a tiny package. The powerful chip only weighs 500mg and is 6mm cubed in size. This means that the technology can be used remotely, in a patient’s home, or at a doctors’ surgery.

The researchers are taking this portable technology one step further. They are currently developing a smart-phone based accessory and microfluidic pump to make the detection platform even more accessible outside of the lab.

In light of this breakthrough development in disruptive diagnostics, let’s take a look at how far it has come in just a few years.

What is Disruptive Diagnostics?

Disruptive diagnostics may make healthcare practices cheaper, faster, and more effective | Image by johavel | Shutterstock

To diagnose a disease, nano-sized bio-particles like DNA, proteins, and viruses need to be detected and analyzed. Bio-particles are usually detected using colorimetric assays or fluorescent labeling with a secondary antibody for detection.

Complex optical detection equipment like fluorescent microscopy or spectrophotometry are also needed. So traditionally, this process had to be carried out in a lab.

This made it more time-consuming and expensive. Even in the case of a simple blood test, you could be waiting weeks for results.

Disruptive diagnostics uses innovative technology to make testing for diseases more accurate, efficient, and less costly.

So far, disruptive diagnostic technologies have come in many forms. Innovations have ranged from at home blood tests to genetic screening.

One example is genome sequencing. This process enables doctors to identify the genes that are responsible for different disorders by carrying out a simple blood test.

Say a patient found out that they had the gene responsible for a certain heart disease like ARVC. They could then have a defibrillator implanted in their chest. Then, if their heart did suddenly stop or change pace, the defibrillator would send out an electrical impulse automatically. This would cause the heart to beat again, and the patient could go about their life as normal.

If people can immediately find out whether they have certain illnesses, they can get the help they need immediately. This increases chances of recovery.

It will also mean that preventative measures can be implemented before the disease takes hold. The technology will thus lower healthcare costs over time and relieve strains on the healthcare system. This is a vital part of fighting serious illnesses like cancer and preventing fatal heart attacks.

Previous Developments in Disruptive Diagnostics

In 2013, an innovation in disruptive diagnostics was brought to us by Theranos, a company from Palo Alto, California. They created a portable blood test that used micro-samples. One of the earlier forms of disruptive diagnostics technology, this can analyze a drop of blood from a single pinprick.

Before this, a syringe was used to take multiple 33cc samples. Now, over 30 different tests can be carried out using this tiny sample.

It can rapidly alert doctors to indications of lifestyle diseases without the patient having to go through the often painful syringe aspiration process.

Another major benefit of single-prick testing is that the results are available in less than four hours rather than the traditional three-day wait.

Single-prick testing uses microfluidics apparatus combined with artificial intelligence. This breakthrough discovery opened the medical world to a new field of technology using DNA chips and lab-on-a-chip hardware.

Retinal imaging

A retinal image used in disruptive diagnostics
Retinal Imaging has become an effective and innovative method of detecting many diseases | Image by Geebshot | Shutterstock

High blood pressure, stroke, diabetes, and heart disease are some of the leading causes of death in the western world. Shockingly, simple lifestyle and dietary changes can prevent this if the problem is detected early.

Retinal imaging is a form of disruptive diagnostics that has the potential to help counteract this problem.

Retinal imagining is automated with digital image processing. It uses pattern recognition software to analyze blood vessels and detect signs of early blood vessel damage.

Recently, researchers started to implement deep learning algorithms into retinal imagining. These can be trained to more efficiently predict disease symptoms.

Read More: Google AI Predicts Heart Disease and Stroke From Retinal Images

Machine Learning, Algorithms, and Mass Spectrometers: The Latest in Disruptive Diagnostics

Since then, disruptive diagnostic technology has become even more sophisticated.

For instance, Italian researchers recently demonstrated that machine learning algorithms can be a beneficial tool in preventing Alzheimer’s.

The team at the University of Bari and Institute National di Fiscal Nuclear developed a machine learning algorithm that can detect brain changes related to the neurodegenerative disease. The most beneficial aspect of this advancement is that the technology allows symptoms to be detected 10 years before doctors would usually be able to recognize them.

Read More: AI can now Snuff Out Alzheimer’s a Decade Before Symptoms Appear

Another amazing application of disruptive diagnostics was put forward by the University of Texas at the SXSW Conference in Austin. The MAsSpec pen is a device that immediately recognizes early signs of cancer.

The portable device that is as compact as a pen uses a mass spectrometer. This allows it to diagnose cancer during surgery in twenty seconds flat. Cancer can be treated if it’s discovered early enough. Think of all the lives that could be saved thanks to this technology.

Read More: Meet the MasSpec Pen, a Device That Detects Cancer in Seconds

Effective Disruptive Diagnostics Means More Efficient Treatment

As disruptive diagnostics is becoming more effective, treatment will become more efficient. If advancements in this area continue, personalized treatment and preventative measures will play a major role in the future of healthcare. This will not only enhance personal well-being but will also lessen the financial burden on the healthcare system.

These technologies also offer low-cost, accurate, and timely options that are making their way into the commercial world. They could be particularly beneficial to those living in rural regions. For example, in less developed countries disruptive diagnostics could make up for the shortage of general practitioners.

Automation of diagnostics will cause fundamental changes in medicine. The field is set to become more of an information science. This means that doctors will have to deal with large datasets and multiple sources that will be shared with patients.

The realm of disruptive diagnostics is where medicine and technology intersect. These cutting-edge innovations could determine the future of the healthcare system.

How else is disruptive diagnostics technology set to change the healthcare system? 

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