Super-sensitive medical diagnostics


By Bill Perry, Nanomix

Medical diagnostics account for just 1% of healthcare spending, yet it is the basis for 60% of all healthcare decision-making. Standard medical detection technologies have severe shortcomings, however. Those that provide high-value, quantitative results are optical systems and require that the patient sample be moved to a laboratory and subjected to complex tests run by highly trained staff. In many cases, valuable diagnostic information is not practical for routine use due to the cost and timing of generating a result.

In parallel, an explosion of highly valuable biomarker panels is driving a change from empirically based, trial-and-error medicine, to more evidence-based, personalized solutions. These biomarkers require a detection technology that enables simple, cost-effective, point-of-care results for critical decision-making.

Thankfully, significant breakthroughs in medical diagnostic applications that leverage the unique properties of nanomaterials are coming to market. As they do, they are expanding the impact of nano across a variety of life-science applications. An example is the Sensation detection platform from Nanomix, which performs direct, electronic, label-free detection of gases and biomarkers. The approach uses no light emission so the chemistry and the reader device are vastly simplified. This enables handheld diagnostics with a rapid time-to-result at a much lower cost than traditional methods. Primary applications are point-of-care respiratory and biomarker detection, where low power consumption, small size, and ultra-sensitivity offer performance advantages and unprecedented access to critical information.

A mesh of carbon nanotubes traps analyte and triggers change in the electronic characteristics of the detection device corresponding to analyte concentration. Arrays on silicon and plastic substrates use scalable and inexpensive manufacturing techniques.
Click here to enlarge image

Sensation is based on random networks of carbon nanotubes paired with electronics in a chip or plastic detection device. Changes in the electronic characteristics of the devices correspond to the amount of analyte present. These devices are arrayed on silicon and plastic substrates using scalable and inexpensive manufacturing techniques. The arrays enable multi-plexed, multi-analyte detection and pattern analysis for ultra-sensitive, specific, and reproducible results.

The Nanomix asthma monitor in development is a small, inexpensive unit that measures the level of nitric oxide (NO) in exhaled breath. This provides a measure of airway inflammation that could significantly improve diagnosis and treatment for the 300 million people worldwide affected by this disease. Asthma is the number-one chronic childhood disease and the number-one reason for children to visit a hospital emergency room. Regular, cost-effective monitoring of NO could allow reduction in needed medicines such as inhaled corticosteroids, reduction of traumatic and costly asthma attacks, and monitoring of the progression and regression of the disease pre-symptomatically, thus enabling a whole range of new medical decision-making. Sufferers have been underserved by existing patient-monitoring approaches that are not objective and are effort-dependent, or costly and complicated.

Analysis of various biomarkers in human breath is an enormous opportunity for Sensation technology. Diseases such as virus, lung or breast cancers, liver disease, gastrointestinal problems, and many others can be diagnosed through trace analytes in exhaled breath.

Impressive data has been generated through collaboration for other applications of the technology. For example,

  • Glucose: Development of nano-ink for glucose test strips that will lower test costs and enhance performance;
  • Protein: Diagnosis of conditions such as stroke or heart attack through detection of biomarkers, tracking of fertility and pregnancy through hormone detection; and
  • DNA: Electronic detection of genetically modified organisms in crop samples, and detection of human genetic patterns for diagnosis of infectious diseases, inherited diseases, and drug metabolism.

Bill Perry is VP, business development, marketing, and sales, for Nanomix Inc. ( He can be reached at (510) 428-5302 or