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A Big Future For Tiny Devices

A Big Future For Tiny DevicesMiniature medical diagnostics, according to Tufts chemistry professor David Walt, will bring big changes to the health care industry.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [06.09.05] As a corollary to the saying "the bigger they are, the harder they fall," one Tufts professor believes that "the smaller they are, the more effectively they can diagnose." According to Tufts’ Dr. David Walt, a new breed of tiny, inexpensive medical diagnostic devices is showing great promise, and could change the way patients get medical care.

"We are moving toward a time in the not-too-distant future when we really will be able to conduct thousands or hundreds of thousands of tests in a small, inexpensive device," Walt, Robinson Professorof Chemistry at Tufts, told American Medical News, a publication of American Medical Association.

Despite their small size, these devices are very powerful, the News reported. Commonly used in breathalyzers used by police and pocket-sized test equipment for checking glucose levels in diabetes patients, the technology has been incorporated into cutting-edge devices such as the capsule colonoscopy, which is swallowed by the patient and can detect gastrointestinal bleeding and transmit picture, and DNA microarrays that contain the known extent of the human genome.

In an article published in the April 2005 issue of the journal Science, Walt touted the value of these devices, but he also noted the changes they would bring.

"As is common for medical and clinical diagnostic systems, several regulatory issues must be resolved before miniaturized diagnostic technologies become approved and accepted," Walt wrote in Science. "In particular, the vast amount of data that can be collected on a single patient sample using arrays presents a challenge to regulatory agencies and clinicians alike."

Another change would be the kind of samples doctors would need to gather from patients. In Science, Walt cited a new type of saliva-based HIV test that takes just 20 minutes to complete.

Walt told the News that the advent of such devices could be a "pretty disruptive approach to things" in the world of medicine.

"Farther down the road may be personalized health care with diagnosis and disease-monitoring occurring in the home with easy-to-use miniature devices," he wrote in Science.

These devices could also increase health care efficiency by combining multiple tests into a single examination.

"In the future, we will be able to measure everything all of the time because it won't make any sense to measure one thing when you can measure all things for the same price," Walt told the News.




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