Early detection is an essential step in effective disease treatment, and strides are being made on the molecular level that could soon help doctors make diagnoses at the speed of sound.
A team of mechanical engineers at Duke University has demonstrated a tiny whirlpool that can concentrate nanoparticles using nothing but sound, an innovation that could help doctors in their diagnostic decisionmaking.
To find early warning signs of disease, physicians test concentrations of proteins, antibodies and other biomarkers found in small samples of bodily fluids to look for strong enough indicators that would signal the presence of disease. The process often requires bulky, expensive equipment like centrifuges, chemical analyzers and other devices used for routine tests on blood, urine or saliva that often cannot be taken into the field and require properly trained experts to run.
However, the engineers at Duke are developing a new device that would overcome these obstacles by pairing a small acoustic transducer to a glass cylinder. The device produces a whirlpool that can capture the disease-signaling nanoparticles in its vortex. The force employed is acoustic radiation, in which pressure waves of sound push on whatever they encounter.
An exaggerated version of this would be a cartoon character being knocked off his feet by sound waves blasting from a giant loudspeaker. On a molecular level, the force serves to concentrate particles so they are easier to view under a microscope or in a pathology lab.
The device and method show promise for new diagnostic applications since it is compact, inexpensive, requires low amounts of energy and does not alter the properties of the particles doctors would need to study.
“Diagnosis impacts about 70% of healthcare decisions,” said Tony Huang, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science at Duke. “If we can improve the quality of diagnostics while reducing its costs, then we can tremendously improve the entire healthcare system.”
The results appeared online in the journal American Chemical Society Nano in January