Miniaturised Mass Discriminator
A credit card-sized, single use mass discriminator that could be used as a near patient diagnostic for conditions such as diabetes, peptic ulcers and liver dysfunction. This technology, originally developed for space missions, scales down large and expensive commercial mass spectrometers through innovative design allowing accurate detection of small groups of substances. The inventor is seeking partners looking to develop single specific solutions in different industrial sectors.
This technology, initially developed for space missions, overcomes the two major issues faced by Mass Spectrometers – size and price. The innovative design comprises of two chambers, a sampling and analysis chamber separated by a rupture membrane, making the device a single use or disposable instrument. The electrode and magnet setup within the analysis chamber allow for the discrimination between a small number of ions, rather than identifying any ion species like the larger MS of the industry. The sample chamber may be an open or closed chamber. If closed, this may be by an admission valve arranged for the introduction of the required sample into the sample chamber.
One of the current applications of the technology is proposed in the field of medical diagnostics. The technology uses breath tests to diagnose medical conditions such as stomach ulcers; this will enable patients suffering from suspected stomach ulcers to be tested for species of bacteria called Helicobacter Pylori (H. pylori) at their doctor’s surgery in minutes and with laboratory-standard accuracy, by the detection of C13 CO2 exhaled by patients treated with C13 labelled urea. The bacteria use breakdown urea into CO2 & ammonia, the latter allowing neutralization of stomach acidity for its survival. In order to accomplish this, the instrument needs to be able to discriminate between C12 CO2 and C13 CO2 in a breath sample.
H. pylori are the most common cause of stomach ulcers. It is estimated that more than a quarter of people in the UK become infected with the bacteria at some stage in their life. Unlike most other bacteria which are killed by the acid in our stomachs, H. pylori use the aforementioned technique to blanket itself from stomach acidity. The ulcers are a result of the lesions created by the attack of the body’s immune response against the bacteria living in the mucosal membrane of the stomach lining.
To confirm their diagnosis many patients are currently referred to hospital. They are given a liquid to swallow, which is broken down by the H. pylori bacteria to produce a gas, and then have their breath tested to see if the bacteria is present using a large and expensive machine called a mass spectrometer. Tip Chip has made a breakthrough in this type of medical technology as it works in a similar way but is almost credit card sized making it possible in the future for doctors to carry out these tests from their own surgery.
The technology could provide a simpler way of enabling both doctor and patient to find out what is wrong at the point of care and identify the best course of treatment much more quickly. This could reduce the burden on the national health services and free up many hospital appointments to be used for other medical conditions.
Innovations & Advantages
Many novel solutions were developed to achieve the miniaturisation and reliability required for the space instrument, including the use of shape memory alloys for the gas release mechanism and nanotechnology electron sources.
For the end user the main advantages produced are the reduction of size and cost whilst being able to target specific chemical signatures.
Portability is a major advantage as the unit is a similar size to a credit card.
The disposable nature of the technology is also an interesting feature which allows easier regulatory approval as well as lowering the risk of cross contamination.
Current and Potential Domains of Application
The device is currently being developed further within the medical diagnostic field so applications are sought outside of this.
Security is one envisioned industry where detection of specific contraband is required.
Other areas could be developed where in-situ analysis for a specific compound would be beneficial over sending samples to laboratories.