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TNO is at an advanced stage in the development of a biosensor, a small device that can analyse a drop of blood to determine whether someone has been exposed to nerve gas, has an infectious disease or has had a heart attack. Now that optical and biological experts have demonstrated the workings of the method in the laboratory, it is a matter of manufacturing a device that must be compact, light and affordable.
This involves point-of-care (PoC) diagnostics, in which a simple device can be used for all kinds of applications at home or at the GP surgery. This is based on the knowledge TNO has developed to detect biomarkers, i.e. proteins that at certain concentrations in the blood indicate specific diseases or disorders. In war zones or in attacks with biological or chemical weapons, who is and who is not exposed to nerve gas can quickly be established so that the right kind of help can be provided.
The prototype of the device is still too large and too expensive to produce on a large scale, but in the end it has to be a small, light box in which you place a disposable sensor cartridge with a drop of blood. Optical sensors register within a few minutes what protein concentrations are in the blood for a diagnosis. That is one application, but the biosensor can also detect a series of biomarkers at the same time.
There are multiple applications. In acute situations, a doctor or ambulance worker who has been called to help can immediately determine whether a person is having a heart attack or stroke and act on it quickly. In remote areas where there is no clinical lab or even electricity, the biosensor is a godsend.