Staff Writer

ATLANTA — Diagnostics are changing. More sensor-based technologies that can be implanted in the body are emerging and with the addition of an algorithm, smartphones are becoming accurate diagnostic devices. Nanotechnology's presence is also being felt in the space. During a session at the American Association for Clinical Chemistry (Washington) Annual Meeting and Clinical Expo, panelists gave a brief overview of the direction diagnostic technology was headed. There was standing room only in the session, which was titled "From In Vitro to In Vivo diagnostics - Are we moving into the body with diagnostics." Conference organizers had to interrupt the session briefly; so that an overflow room could be set up for attendees.

The first topic of conversation was the use of nanotechnology and how it has impacted diagnostics. Jason Park, Director, of the Advanced Diagnostics Laboratory at Children's Medical Center (Dallas) spoke about nanotechnology and noted how it has been embraced over the years.

When he first started working with nanoparticles 10 years ago, the idea of nanoparticles – while not particularly new – was slow moving. He noted that today that has all changed. Commercialization of nanotechnology back then was slim, and now it seems to be growing.

"Giving this talk at this meeting is very exciting because there are a number of clinical connections that we can now see,"Park told the audience. "I think as [lab personnel] that we should consider what these new miniaturized technologies will mean to us in our profession."

He said that as technology gets smaller and whole laboratory systems can be developed based on the use of these smaller sensors, there is increased potential to develop more ingestible, wearable and implantable devices.

"One of the big questions here, is can this be faster or cheaper," he said. "And it might not need to be cheaper, if fundamentally the analytical technology is vastly superior to what we have today."

The global market for healthcare nanotechnology is expected to reach $196.02 billion by 2020 growing at a CAGR of 12.1%, according to a new study by Grand View Research (San Francisco).

Park then jumped to some of the smaller diagnostics that were in the space. He pointed to devices like the Apple Watch and Google Glass as examples of these technologies. "Think of these devices and what's available from the IT community and we certainly get a sense of what's possible in health. Each of these devices now have an open system for health care analytical applications," he said. "Not only do you have basic sensors built into these devices, but you have an open creation platform for other types of sensor technology."

He pointed out that there is a surge in people across the country recording there health conditions. These numerous health reports could help lead to uncovering trends in certain regions or on the local level.

"Now there are many health applications, that survey across the entire country, with people who are recording their state of health,"Park said. "So if you're an epidemiologist, this gives you much more information. If a significant part of your population has the exact same symptoms and a fraction of that has a definitive diagnosis with a certain virus, then you get a lot more clues without having to test each individual person."

The conversation eventually moved over into the implantable device side. David Erickson of Cornell University (Ithaca, N.Y.) started the conversation and began speaking about an investigational technology he was working on for the Office of Naval Research. He presented an implantable and self-powered autonomous microfluidic device that continuously monitored for late phase hemorrhagic shock and when detected, provided a life extending treatment for the condition.

"From an engineering perspective, this was sort of challenging because you need to integrate three elements," he said. Erickson noted that the device had to be small enough; it had to be able to harvest energy of some sort and not rely on being recharged by a battery; and have a drug delivery component to it."

The end result is a device that is about the size of a Penney that fits in the patient.

"We got to the point last year where we were able to run this in sort of a mock system," Erickson said. "Of course we're still looking into running this in-vivo with human patients."

Erickson then discussed a more conventional type of diagnostic device - the smartphone. He said that the technology was a win-win for all involved. He pointed out a cholesterol application that could be used with smartphones.

"Why it makes a lot of sense to run this technology of these mobile devices is because you're already trained on it. You're already familiar with the interface. It's an incredibly powerful system. You've already bought the smartphone; I don't have to sell you anything. You just need to tap into [what it's capable of].

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