It's medicine, Jim, but not as we know it: Scientists develop Star Trek-style diagnosis device

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A TEAM of British scientists have developed a Star Trek-style medical "tricorder" that they claim can diagnose diseases such as breast cancer in minutes.

The hand-held device analyses a patient's blood, urine or saliva sample to indicate the presence of disease, much like the one used by Dr Leonard "Bones" McCoy in the sci-fi series.

Named the CliniHub, the gadget features a number of "ports" into which samples are placed. The samples react to chemicals inside the ports, which then change colour to denote diseases in the same way that a pregnancy test turns blue.

CliniHub has been developed by Cambridge Consultants in conjunction with US firm XenBio Fluidics, from California.

Patrick Pordage, from Cambridge Consultants, believes it could be "the future" for diagnosing diseases. He said: "We are very excited about the possibilities that CliniHub can bring to both patients and GPs across the world.

"Quicker analysis of diseases can only lead to better treatment and, in some cases, we hope it could save lives. This technology is a real breakthrough for us.

"The CliniHub could prove to be the future of disease diagnosis and we believe its applications will grow with time."

The netbook-sized CliniHub is expected to cost about 650.

Its developers predict it will soon be able to detect up to 20 ailments and become commonplace in GP surgeries.

When using the device, doctors insert a blood, urine or saliva sample into one of four USB-sized ports located on the side.

Each port contains a chemical "assay" that has been designed in the US to react in different ways when it detects different antibodies and diseases.

The chemical works in the same way as a pregnancy test, where an increase of certain hormones is marked by a change in colour to blue.

When the sample has been placed inside the CliniHub, UV light produced by an LED analyses the chemical and the results of the scan are displayed on a screen.

The developers have built prototypes that can detect three diseases, but precise details of the antibody coatings or disease markers are currently top secret.

One version of the CliniHub is designed to allow GPs to test for breast cancer, enabling them to prioritise which patients go for mammogram screenings.

There are also plans to build a version of the device for people to use at home, for example to swab a sore throat to see if it is a viral or bacterial infection.

Simon Burnell, head of diagnostics at Cambridge Consultants, revealed the clinical tests were currently being approved by the US Food and Drug Administration.

He said: "We're aiming for a sub-$100 breast-cancer screening test, which is much cheaper than mammography.

"The advent of low-cost digital readers means that the sensitivity of gold-based tests is reaching its limit.

"Recognising the need for innovation, we have developed a platform that will enable our clients to take lateral flow immunoassays to the next level, developing the next generation of high-sensitivity tests at a low-cost point previously impossible.

"With our medical device development process, we can offer a programme which would take a diagnostic test to prototype within three months, and to market within a year."

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