New Sensor Detects Heavy Metal Levels

Lab-on-a-chip sensor capable of detecting manganese in humans

(RxWiki News) Doctors usually must wait 48 hours to learn the results of blood tests for the heavy metal manganese. A new lab-on-a-chip sensor will simplify and streamline that test. It can produce results in 10 minutes.

The new fast-feedback, low-cost sensor only requires one to two drops of blood and is expected to have large-scale clinical uses such as for nutrition testing in children.

"Consider a heavy metals test if you reside in Marietta, Ohio."

Ian Papautsky, a device researcher and professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Cincinnati, noted that a small level of manganese is normal and necessary for metabolic functions. However, overly elevated levels could be dangerous. He said the portable device will be especially useful in rural, high-risk areas where access to a certified metals lab is limited.

The device is made of bismuth as opposed to mercury, which is more typical but can carry its own risks. The  device has so far shown high levels of accuracy when used for numerous continuous hours.

The environmentally-friendly disposable sensor will be field tested in Marietta, Ohio, next year  where researchers are conducting a long-term study to examine the potential health effects of heavy metals.

Development of the device was motivated by an ongoing research project that involves studying air pollution and the health effects of manganese. Marietta was chosen as the research site because it is home to the only manganese refinery in the United States.

Preliminary research has shown that Marietta residents have elevated levels of manganese compared to those who live elsewhere in the U.S.

Further development could lead to a similar device designed for home use such as blood glucose monitors for diabetics.

The project was funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Pilot Research Project Training Program and the University of Cincinnati.

The research was published in international journal Biomedical Microdevices.

Review Date: 
August 2, 2011