A new portable disease-detecting “paper machine” has been developed by a team of researchers at Harvard University. What makes the device special is its low cost and efficiency since the machine can detect cancer, certain infectious diseases and genetic disorders for less than $2.

A team headed by George Whitesides condensed the steps used in the detection of diseases to a handheld paper machine. The steps include the addition of sample preparation, DNA analysis and detection of the disease. The entire condensation of the steps used materials costing less than $2, the cheapest method ever invented by the researchers.

"The prototype device integrates paper microfluidics (to enable fluid handling) and a multilayer structure, or a 'paper machine,' that allows a central patterned paper strip to slide in and out of a fluidic path and thus allows introduction of a sample, wash buffers, an amplification master mix, and detection reagents with minimal pipetting, in a handheld, disposable device intended for point-of-care use in resource-limited environments," the researchers reported in the study, which has been published in the journal Analytical Chemistry.

The researchers hope that the device will eliminate the need to go to diagnostic centers to undergo expensive medical tests recommended by doctors. In addition, the team says the paper machine has the potential to replace the diagnostic tests under certain conditions.

Describing the efficiency of their innovation, the researchers explained that the paper machine can even detect the presence of five E. coli cells that are otherwise ignored by the traditional blood cells.

According to the researchers, blood test results obtained this way can be read or interpreted under ultraviolet light or even under the light of a smartphone. As of now, the researchers are trying to further refine the device for more simplified use.