Soon, Office Paper Could Tell You If You're Ill (Or Pregnant)

By Jamie Condliffe on at

Researchers are developing new ways to make affordable, chemically-sensitive paper that could diagnose malaria, diabetes, pregnancy and plenty more—and it might even show up in your office.

Currently, there's one major application which uses sensitive paper: home pregnancy tests. If you've ever bought one, you'll know they're expensive, and that's because the paper in them relies on a membrane, called nitrocellulose, to "catch" molecules of interest. But there's a better way, explains researcher Daniel Ratner to CNET:

"We want to develop something to not just ask a single question but ask many personal health questions... Is there protein in the urine? Is this person diabetic? Do they have malaria or influenza?"

Instead of expensive, single-purpose paper, Ratner has been developing paper that can bind to a whole fleet of chemicals, including DNA, antibodies, and sugars. To do that, his team simply coats paper in an industrial solvent, in which a range of biomolecules are suspended. When the paper is exposed to a chemical which reacts with the biomolecules, you can see a distinctive change in colour. The results are published in Langmuir.

The experiments so far have used plain-old office paper as a base, and the scientists are confident that in the future the sensing technology should be "ultra cheap". Who said a paperless office was the future? [Langmuir via CNET]

Image by photosteve101 under Creative Commons license