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Johns Hopkins Researchers Develop Handheld Chlamydia Test Using Microfluidics, Smartphone

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ATLANTA (GenomeWeb) – Biomedical engineers at Johns Hopkins University have developed a microfluidic device to enable inexpensive point-of-care molecular testing. The researchers presented the work here today at the American Association of Clinical Chemistry annual meeting and lab expo.

Called mobiLab, the platform uses "magnetofluidic droplet microfluidics," Dong Jin Shin, the JHU researcher presenting the project, told GenomeWeb.

The platform is battery powered, and users can control it and process test data using a smartphone app.

The team has initially developed the device to test genital swab samples for chlamydia DNA, but may explore expanding it to perform multiplexed chlamydia/gonnhorea testing in the future, Shin said. The group is also working with collaborators at JHU to extend the platform for detection of other infectious diseases.

The device is "coffee mug-sized," about six inches tall, and "about the weight of two to three iPhones," Shin said.

The microfluidic cartridges integrate sample prep, DNA amplification, and data processing using magnetic particles, loop-mediated isothermal amplification, and a fluorescent readout detectable by a cell phone camera, Shin explained.

The manufacturing cost of the device is around $200, and the per-cartridge cost is $2, he said.

A number of point-of-care or near-patient devices from commercial vendors are being highlighted at AACC this year, including the Roche Liat, Alere i, and the just-unveiled Cepheid Omni

But Shin noted that with mobiLab  his team is more focused on demonstrating proof of concept that a magnetofluidic approach can be used for low-cost miniaturization of molecular testing.

Notably, in a validation of the platform, the chlamydia test was able to identify the same 10 positive and 10 negative samples as the Hologic Aptima Combo 2 assay, a gold-standard chlamydia test. 

"We are also excited to see commercial platforms converging in on point-of-care testing and hope that the field can move forward as a result of these technologies," he said.

The work was done in the lab of Tza-Huei (Jeff) Wang, where Shin is a graduate student. Wang has a patent for a similar microfluidic device, but mobiLab is covered by a separate utility patent application filed through JHU, Shin said. 

"We are currently working on our own, although industry partners interested in collaborating in academic research would be most welcome," Shin said.

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