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UT Researchers Invent Dollar Diagnosis

Photo courtesy of Brian Zaccheo
The biosensor, developed by a UT graduate student, is the size of a half-dollar.

Scientists at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a biosensor that costs as little as a  dollar to help test for acute pancreatitis. The materials include a 12-cent LED light, aluminum foil, gelatin, milk protein, and a few other inexpensive items. Brian Zaccheo, a graduate research assistant at UT’s chemistry department, says that the development saves time, money, and lives by using this low-tech approach.

“The sensor itself is self-powered, which is to say, it doesn’t use a battery, it doesn’t need a light bulb, it doesn’t need to plug in,” Zaccheo said. “All you need to make it work is this small chip about the size of a half-dollar and an eyedropper and a timer. ”

Acute pancreatitis is sudden inflammation of the pancreas, which can lead to severe stomach pain, nausea, fever, shock, and in some cases, death. The sensor relies on a simple two-step process to diagnose the disease rather than a sophisticated lab and chemicals large hospitals use.

The biosensor can be especially useful in developing countries where resources for more complex tests are scarce. It can also be useful in situations where batteries are scarce, such as natural disasters or in remote locations.