Paper-Based Phenylalanine Test
Project Description: 

At home medical tests such as the glucose monitor and pregnancy test empower individuals to make faster, better-informed decisions about their healthcare outside of a clinic. One platform with the potential to create more high impact personal health monitors is “paper” microfluidics: the use of low-cost, paper-like materials to detect biomarkers in human samples. These materials provide the advantage of moving fluid within them by capillary action, removing the need for external pumping machines.

A chronic condition that would benefit from personal monitoring is phenylketonuria (PKU). PKU patients are unable to break down the amino acid phenylalanine, found in many foods. High concentrations of this amino acid in the body leads to lasting neurological damage so patients manage their levels with a strict low-phenylalanine diet. Currently, there is no alternative to laboratory testing to monitor PKU patient’s phenylalanine levels. Lab tests require a trained operator, complex instrumentation, and take many days to obtain a result, making real-time adjustments to diets difficult.

We have developed a home-use phenylalanine diagnostic that only requires a small blood sample from a finger prick and returns a result in 4 minutes. Minimal user steps are required as all reagents are stored dry within the device and rehydrated by the addition of the blood sample when used. The multiple chemical reactions within the device presented a design challenge due to pH and storage incompatibilities. The device design was determined by characterizing the porous materials’ fluidic compatibility, chemical compatibility, and sample pH throughout the device. This device has the potential to improve PKU patient’s quality of life by providing more frequent feedback to personalize their diet therapy. Furthermore, this work provides a framework to rationally design multi-reaction paper-based diagnostics for other conditions. Further work includes long-term device storage studies and device validation with PKU patient clinical samples.

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Project Team Member(s): 
Lael Wentland
Rachel Polaski
Elain Fu
College of Engineering Unit(s): 
Chemical, Biological, and Environmental Engineering
Graduate Project
Project Communication Piece(s): 
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