Effective, Inexpensive Medical Testing: On a Strip of Paper?

What if testing yourself for cancer or other diseases were as easy as testing your blood sugar or taking a home pregnancy test? In a few years, it might be.

Chemists at The Ohio State University are developing paper strips that detect diseases including cancer and malaria – for a cost of 50 cents per strip.

The idea is that people could apply a drop of blood to the paper at home and mail it to a laboratory on a regular basis – and see a doctor only if the test comes out positive. The researchers found that the tests were accurate even a month after the blood sample was taken, proving they could work for people living in remote areas.

Abraham Badu-Tawiah, assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Ohio State, conceived of the papers as a way to get cheap malaria diagnoses into the hands of people in rural Africa and southeast Asia, where the disease kills hundreds of thousands of people and infects hundreds of millions every year. The test can be tailored to detect any disease for which the human body produces antibodies, including ovarian cancer and cancer of the large intestine.

The patent-pending technology could bring disease diagnosis to people who need it most—those who don’t have regular access to a doctor or can’t afford regular in-person visits, Badu-Tawiah said.

The university will license the technology to a medical diagnostics company for further development. In the meantime, researchers are working to make the tests more sensitive, so that people could eventually use them non-invasively, with saliva or urine as the test material instead of blood.