Work by University of Cincinnati researchers to create a fast feedback sensor for the presence and levels of heavy metals — specifically manganese — in humans is published in the August issue of Biomedical Microdevices.

Described in the article is the development of a low-cost, disposable lab-on-a-chip sensor that detects highly electronegative heavy metals more quickly than current technology generally available in health-care settings. It is envisioned that the new UC sensor technology will be used in point-of-care devices that provide needed feedback within about ten minutes. It iss expected that the sensor will have potential for large-scale use in clinical, occupational and research settings, including nutrition testing in children.

The new sensor is environmentally friendly in that its working electrode is made of bismuth vs. the more typical mercury, and it is child friendly in that it requires only a droplet or two of blood for testing vs. the typical five-milliliter sample now required. The sensor also exhibits high reliability over multiple days of use, with hours of continuous operation.

UC’s Ian Papautsky explains the new technology’s advantages in the field:

“The conventional methods for measuring manganese levels in blood currently requires about five milliliters of whole blood sent to a lab, with results back in 48 hours. For a clinician monitoring health effects by measuring these levels in a patient’s blood, where a small level of manganese is normal and necessary for metabolic functions, you want an answer much more quickly about exposure levels, especially in a rural, high-risk area where access to a certified metals lab is limited. Our sensor will only require about two droplets of blood serum and will provide results in about ten minutes. It’s portable and usable anywhere.”

One specific motivation for developing the sensor was an ongoing project by UC’s Erin Haynes, who is studying air pollution and the health effects of manganese and lead in Marietta, Ohio. Manganese is emitted in that area because it is home to the only manganese refinery in the United States and Canada.

Read UC’s full release for more details.