Ampli: A construction set for medical diagnostics


#1

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/05/16/ampli-a-construction-set-for.html

Our team of researchers at MIT’s Little Devices Lab have developed a pocket sized laboratory for biology that allows anyone to invent and deploy rapid diagnostics to detect diseases like Zika and Dengue, as well as everyday biomarkers like cholesterol. Using plug and play reaction blocks, it can be as easy as snapping Legos together. The current approach to developing diagnostic tools involves shipping out samples to faraway labs for the development of tests that take too long and cost too much - but what would happen if everyone could have the tools they needed to design and make diagnostics? If the ability to diagnose disease was directly in the hands of those who most needed it?


#2

Dang, Double DANG!


#3

Well put!


#4

*Dr. McCoy pulls out a bagful of snap-together blocks. “Not quite as speedy or reliable as a Feinberger, but for a mechanical precursor, not bad.”


#5

As someone works in Global Health diagnostics, I’m triggered. Frustrated response in 3…2…1…

Our hope is that in the next outbreak of disease, when foreign scientists come flying in with expensive rapid diagnostics, hawking them for $25, a local scientist will pull an Ampli out of their pocket and tell them they’ve already created exactly what they need, for less than $2.

The reason a test costs what it costs is because it takes a ton of careful science and engineering to produce something that gives a predictable result. Manufacturers of lateral-flow assays like this can already produce the components for pennies - that’s not the expensive part. You will never be able to make these legos for less than one of the big manufacturers produce an entire packaged test for today - they pump out and assemble those components by the zillion.

Here’s what’s expensive: the research to understand how a disease works and how the body responds, so you know what you’re looking for; the development of reagents that allow you to detect the thing you’re looking for, which might mean a years-long effort by itself; and the work that goes into producing a stable product that works every time. Quality control is a giant, expensive effort, but without it you do not have a test.

If you have already gone through all that and you know how to detect what you’re looking for, and you already have the reagents to detect it - both of which must be true for there to be an “Ampli” module for you to use - a lateral-flow assay manufacturer can pump out as many as you can use in an afternoon for little more than the cost of the chemicals.

A $25 test in a Global Health context costs that much because…that’s what it costs. Nobody is raking in huge profits (or any profits) in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s impossible for any company to succeed there unless their product has a profitable market in the U.S. that will support the bath they’ll take selling in developing countries.

By the way, some advice: if someone is suspected of having Ebola, the last thing you do is prick their finger in a “mom and pop” lab.

I have an even higher soapbox I can deploy if you want to hear about how it’s exactly this kind of academic project that keeps Global Health in the dark ages, but I’ll spare you.


#6

Hear, hear!


#7

#8

Nobody is raking in huge profits (or any profits) in sub-Saharan Africa. It’s impossible for any company to succeed there unless their product has a profitable market in the U.S. that will support the bath they’ll take selling in developing countries.

Are we talking about Pharma corporations here or somebody else?

If we are, I’ll grant you that they aren’t making big bucks in sub-Saharan Africa but considering the billions they make in profits every year I’m guessing the amounts they lose there are relatively speaking a drop in the bucket.


#9

I don’t, but I do travel a lot and was thinking the same thing, thanks for filling in the details!


#10

nods failed companies like thereanos didn’t help things, especially with the huge number of false positives they came back with.

I can also understand why some of the tests are so expensive- it has to produce the correct results, every time. Otherwise, real damage to the patient’s health can be done.


#11

That was my first thought, as well.