Space bugs for blood testing — and more

Space bugs for blood testing—and more
Space bugs prototypes.

Thanks to ideas of putting swarms of tiny robot bugs to work on a future space station, patients being medicated for blood clots may soon get a simple, home-use testing kit, here on Earth.

Fifteen years ago as a graduate student, Vladislav Djakov started building these micro-electromechanical creatures that mimic the of bugs found in nature.

Equipped with a , limited intelligence and , the bugs would be small enough to send en masse to hard-to-reach places, like pipes carrying on space stations.

There, monitoring changes in temperature or flow could warn of impending malfunctions.

To move the bugs, the hit on using cilia-like motion, much like some deep-sea creatures use to propel themselves. They covered one face of the with tiny cantilever arms.

“They would then move along on these like millipedes,” said Dr Djakov, now Director of Sensor Development at Microvisk Technologies.

In the end, the space bugs were ahead of their time: they haven’t yet progressed past the testing phase.

But the cilia approach – the cantilever arms to propel the bugs – has gone further.

Space cantilevers spin off

Space bugs for blood testing—and more
Microvisk’s microchip.

STFC Innovation, ESA’s Technology Transfer Programme partner that operates the agency’s Business Incubation Centre Harwell in the UK, saw the business potential in the medical market and supported start-up company Microvisk to spin off the technology.

At Microvisk, Dr Djakov’s team stripped down the microchips and put the intelligent sensing mechanisms right into the cantilever arms, almost like a cat’s whiskers.

Space bugs for blood testing—and more
CoagLite with test strips.

 

These whiskers turned out to be very good at monitoring liquids. Sweeping through, they note changes in viscosity and register if anything is suspended in the liquid.

“This is very interesting for probing , plasma, and other bodily fluids,” said Dr Djakov.

At present, investors are betting on a device to monitor blood coagulation for patients taking blood thinner medication: “It’s like a diabetes test, but for thrombosis.”

Thanks to this coagulometer, the Microvisk CoagLite, patients will soon be able to test themselves at home with the prick of a finger.

After a small chamber inside the test strip fills with blood, the tiny cantilever sweeps the drop, monitoring how quickly it coagulates.

“You need less blood, which means there is less pain,” said Dr Djakov, who compared its ease-of-use to diabetics’ simple glucose monitors. “Haematologists are finding it really important.”

Now undergoing clinical testing with US Food and Drug Administration, the coagulometer should be on the market later next year.

But the whisker technology isn’t limited to testing blood.

“It would be good for things like plasma or teardrops,” said Dr Djakov, “or to test the oil in a car engine, or in the food industry, to test chocolate or ketchup.

“There are literally hundreds of applications, for this innovation which started as a ‘space bug’.”  

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Spinning blood device set to safeguard astronaut health

Nov 14, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- ESA has begun developing a new blood-testing device for astronauts on the International Space Station. A wide range of ailments from diabetes to heart disease should be diagnosable in moments from a single ...

China to launch space station module prototype

Aug 17, 2011

China’s space program is in the news again, this time with unconfirmed reports that the Tiangong 1 space lab may be launching into orbit sometime this year – possibly later this month.  Previous ...

Cleaning up with space tech

Sep 07, 2011

There’s just about nowhere that state-of-the-art space technologies cannot reach – from the martian atmosphere to those hard-to-clean spots under the couch. The search for space dust is giving us ...

Spiral seen over the Middle East likely Russian missile

Jun 11, 2012

Remember the Norway Spiral back in 2009 and the Australian Spiral in 2010? On June 7, 2012 there was another swirling spiral of light, this time see in the skies over the Middle East. People across the region reported seeing ...

Recommended for you

Liberia holds Senate vote amid Ebola fears

3 hours ago

Health workers manned polling stations across Liberia on Saturday as voters cast their ballots in a twice-delayed Senate vote that has been criticized for its potential to spread the deadly Ebola disease.

Evidence-based recs issued for systemic care in psoriasis

23 hours ago

(HealthDay)—For appropriately selected patients with psoriasis, combining biologics with other systemic treatments, including phototherapy, oral medications, or other biologic, may result in greater efficacy ...

Bacteria in caramel apples kills at least four in US

23 hours ago

A listeria outbreak believed to originate from commercially packaged caramel apples has killed at least four people in the United States and sickened 28 people since November, officials said Friday.

Steroid-based treatment may answer needs of pediatric EoE patients

Dec 19, 2014

A new formulation of oral budesonide suspension, a steroid-based treatment, is safe and effective in treating pediatric patients with eosinophilic esophagitis (EoE), according to a new study in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, the official clinical practice journal ...

Discovery of genes that predispose a severe form of COPD

Dec 19, 2014

A study by Ramcés Falfán-Valencia, researcher at the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases (INER), found that the mestizo Mexican population has a number of variations in certain genes that predispose ...

User comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.