BENGALURU: In just a few years, diagnostic centres will have a super-tool for quick and accurate diagnosis of a range of diseases using microscopic probes called nanomachines. These will be injected into the bloodstream to help in diagnosing. These nanomachines, measuring about 500 nanometres (1 nm = 1 billionth of a metre) in length, will measure changes in blood viscosity (thickness) to detect diseases at an early stage. These tiny probes can be used in fluids up to 70-100 times more viscous than water. Biological fluids, like blood, are eight times more viscous than water.
Researchers say, for now, nanomachines have the potential to diagnose cardiovascular diseases — which exist in epidemic proportions in India — and sickle cell anaemia with accuracy in quick time.
This revolutionary method is on its way from Bengaluru-based Indian Institute of Science (IISc), from where four IISc researchers collaborated with two Israeli counterparts to develop the path-breaking process to detect diseases — that, too, at no higher diagnostic costs.
Blood and body fluid viscosity are known to uniquely predict disorders, and are an early predictor of cardiovascular diseases, which afflict the heart due to obstructed blood circulation because of cholesterol-induced fatty deposits or arterial wall thickening. Feasibility studies have been successfully completed in-vitro (in lab conditions) on human cells and in live animals.
The research has been published in the January 2018 edition of the journal Advanced Functional Materials.
Lead researcher Dr Arijit Ghosh, formerly from the Department of Electrical Communications Engineering, IISc, who is now Post-doctoral Fellow, Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, US, told The New Indian Express, “Our lab (in IISc) previously demonstrated that these nanomachines can be utilised to navigate inside human blood. The present research extends the capabilities of the nanomachines to potentially detect abnormalities in blood using mechanical sensing.”
“The nanomachines can be used for in-situ measurements (at original locations in blood vessels) of blood viscosity for which they will be injected into the bloodstream. The method can be used to detect blood clots or obstruction in the blood vessels caused by deposition of cholesterol,” he explained.
The nanomachines can be navigated externally using magnetic fields to any specific location in the blood vessel.
If the fluid inside the blood vessel has got thicker, it will be picked up by the nanomachines. This can detect blood clots or blood vessel obstructions caused by cardiovascular diseases at an early stage, he added.
“(But) Translation to patients, however, needs solution to a few technological problems like imaging inside the body, biodegradability etc. Thus, the technology of nanomachines needs time for development and will probably be ready for human trials in 8-10 years,” Ghosh said.
The other researchers are Prof Ambarish Ghosh (guide), Debayan Dasgupta and Malay Pal (all from Indian Institute of Science’s Centre for Nano Science and Engineering); and Dr KI Morozov and Prof. AM Leshansky, from Department of Chemical Engineering Technion–Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.
What Do These Tiny Probes Do?
Once injected into the bloodstream, they measure changes in blood thickness to detect diseases. For instance, in sickle cell anaemia, the thickness of blood (viscosity) increases three times that of normal blood. This helps diagnosing the condition in quick time to act and treat the disease while in its infancy. These probes, made of glass and iron, are spiral in shape and are navigated through the bloodstream using a magnetic field. They can exit the body through
sweat or urine.