August 16, 2012

Space Bugs Inspire Future Home Blood Clot Testing Device

Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online

Patients being medicated for blood clots may soon have tiny robot space bugs to thank for one day getting a simple, home-use testing kit.

Vladislav Djakov started building micro-electromechanical creatures 15 years ago that mimic the swarms of bugs found in nature.

The bugs were equipped with a power supply, limited intelligence and monitoring systems, and were put in hard-to-reach places on the International Space Station.

They helped monitor changes in temperature or flow, and could help warn of impeding malfunctions.

The bugs would move using a cilia-like motion, similar to how some deep-sea creatures propel themselves.

“They would then move along on these like millipedes,” Dr. Djakov, now Director of Sensor Development at Microvisk Technologies, said in a press release.

An ESA partner, STFC Innovation, saw the business potential in the medical market, and supported start-up company Microvisk to spin off the technology.

At Microvisk, Djakov and colleagues stripped down the microchips and put the intelligent sensing mechanisms into the cantilever arms, similar to a cat's whiskers.

These whiskers were good at monitoring liquids, able to notice changes in viscosity and determine if anything is suspended in the liquid.

“This is very interesting for probing blood, plasma, and other bodily fluids,” Djakov said in the release.

They hope the invention could be used in a device to monitor blood coagulation for patients taking blood thinner medication.

The Microvisk CoagLite may soon be able to start allowing patients to test themselves at home for blood clots by just the prick of a finger.

“You need less blood, which means there is less pain,” Dr. Djakov, who compared its ease-of-use to diabetics´ simple glucose monitors, said in the release. “Haematologists are finding it really important.”

The device is now undergoing clinical testing with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but it is expected to go out on the market later next year.

“It would be good for things like plasma or teardrops,” said Dr. Djakov, “or to test the oil in a car engine, or in the food industry, to test chocolate or ketchup.

“There are literally hundreds of applications, for this innovation which started as a ℠space bug´.”