Researchers at Kyung Hee University in South Korea have developed a voice-activated DNA sample pre-treatment device to assist clinicians dealing with outbreaks of infectious disease to stay safer. Dealing with highly infectious patient samples puts clinicians and lab technicians at risk. Minimizing sample handling and exposure is important in reducing the risk of transmission, and a system that can perform some of these steps automatically, without a clinician even having to interact with it physically can facilitate this. Another application is to allow biomedical scientists with a disability that might preclude them from the fiddly work of handling small volumes of liquid to perform assays using just their voice.
The pandemic has highlighted the fact that healthcare staff frequently put themselves in harm’s way to care for their patients. This is admirable and sometimes necessary, but technology that can help to reduce the risk to healthcare staff should be pursued to allow them to perform their work with a minimum of worry.
This latest technology aims to reduce healthcare staff exposure to potentially infectious patient samples and takes its inspiration from the voice-activated smart speakers that are common in many homes. Moreover, voice-activation and automated sample handling also has benefits for scientists and lab technicians who may have a disability, such as visual impairment or dexterity issues that make handling of biomedical assays challenging.
The system consists of a microfluidic chip with chambers for liquid samples that are connected with six 3-way solenoid valves. These valves are activated by a microcontroller that is Bluetooth controlled. The voice-recognition comes in the form of a connected smartphone app. There are a series of pre-determined phrases that the user can utter out loud, and each of these commands is then relayed to the device over Bluetooth.
The current iteration of the device is conceived as processing DNA samples from pathogenic bacteria that have been isolated from patients for further analysis and identification. The microcontroller within the device can coordinate various sample preparation steps, including sample washing, loading, and collection of the final purified bacterial DNA.