Digitect, a senior design project team in the bioengineering department, is developing an inexpensive device that quantifies specific types of proteins present in human blood to keep track of cancer patients’ health status. Team members say the device will be an inexpensive choice for doctors and patient in developing areas.

“We wanted to make a technology that is easily scalable and disposable in less developed nations,” Engineering senior and team member Noor Bosch said, emphasizing the simplicity and affordability of the device.

However, team members stressed that the device will also be highly accurate. “Main novel point about our technology is that we’re combining paper microfluidics, which is very affordable, with carbon nanotubes which are very accurate in measuring biomarkers,” Engineering senior Anthony Martin said.

Paper microfluidics is currently put into use in many detecting devices, such as pregnancy tests. Whereas pregnancy tests use a more basic form of basic paper microfluidics that only gives a yes or no answer, the team is “enabling the technology even more so that it can give quantitative and electrical read out,” Engineering senior Peter Bacas said.

The device is also similar to blood glucose monitoring device diabetes patients use, which takes a small amount of patient’s blood to measure the level of sugar flowing through the vein. The carbon nanotubes in the device will detect the types of protein present in the blood and will convert the concentration of the protein into quantitative measurements the patients can understand.

Carbon nanotubes have receptors to specific types of protein that allows the device to be precise in measurements. Conductivity of the carbon nanotubes changes when the protein binds to the nanotubes.

Carbon nanotube is very expensive, but because the amount of carbon nanotube in the device is so small, the price is going to stay low, Engineering senior and team member Arielle Clynes said.

The device will also be versatile, team members say. By changing the receptors attached to the carbon nanotubes, the device can diagnose various types of diseases.

One possible application of the device other than detecting biomarkers for cancer is diagnosing malaria. Doctors in rural areas or in developing countries without advanced medical devices can use the device to test potential patient’s blood to detect proteins related to malaria, allowing “fast screening of mass amount of patients,” Martin said.

They originally intended to work with osteopontin, a specific type of protein related to cancer metastasis — the spreading of cancer from one part of the body to other parts. Because of the difficulty in accessing the protein, the team moved on to work with Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor, another type of protein that signals tumor growth.

Digitect is currently almost finished with creating the device and only needs to get the protein receptor for the carbon nanotube.

The senior design teams complete capstone projects for all students who are pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Engineering. Students apply class material to make a functioning device. The teams then compete in departmental competitions and a school-wide competition.

“If the device meets our expectations, I think we have a very good chance of being competitive,” Martin said.

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