The cover of a special Optics & Photonics News magazine and an article about the work of UofL researchers. | Courtesy of UofL

Using lasers, electricity, very thin film and their expertise in physics and biology, University of Louisville researchers have developed a method for early detection of diseases, such as the flu, dengue fever and even cancer.

They hope that their approach eventually will lead to the production of hand-held medical devices with which doctors — in hospitals, homes and remote locations — can easily, quickly and cheaply detect potentially deadly and quickly spreading diseases.

Sergio Mendes | Courtesy of UofL

Sergio Mendes, professor of physics at UofL, told Insider Wednesday that his team envisions the technology to be combined with mobile phones. Essentially, your smartphone could tell you anything from whether you’ve contracted the flu or dengue fever — or even whether your cancer has returned.

Knowing the presence of the disease early can help mitigate its impact on the individual — and prevent it from spreading. Identifying the exact type of the disease can help doctors choose the right approach to fight it.

The method used by Mendes and his team involves very thin film (a fraction of the width of a human hair), lasers and electrical stimulation that produces a chemical reaction if a particular biomarker of a disease is present in various bodily fluids.

Mendes said that the current approach to detecting diseases involves the collection of samples that have to be taken to a lab to be analyzed. A handheld device based on the new method could detect diseases within 30 minutes, allowing medical personnel to respond much more quickly.

The approach even could be used in the food industry to prevent contaminated food from reaching consumers, Mendes said.

The UofL researchers’ approach is a “proof of concept,” Mendes said, and they have obtained a provisional patent. They also have submitted a proposal to the National Institutes of Health and hope to generate funds to continue their research. They also are working with a local eye researchers who hopes to apply the method to detect bacteria and viruses in eye fluids.

Mendes’ team also included Martin O’Toole, assistant professor of bioengineering, and doctoral student Jafar Ghithan.

Their work was selected for a special issue of Optics and Photonics News magazine “as the most exciting peer-reviewed research emerging in the field in the past year,” UofL said. Mendes said that only about 25 articles are selected per year.

Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that seasonal influenza activity in the U.S. is increasing. “Several flu activity indicators were higher than is typically seen for this time of year,” the agency said in its most recent flu report.

Health professionals say the most effective ways to avoid the flu include washing your hands frequently and staying away from people who are sick.

Boris Ladwig is a reporter with more than 20 years of experience and has won awards from multiple journalism organizations in Indiana and Kentucky for feature series, news, First Amendment/community affairs, nondeadline news, criminal justice, business and investigative reporting. As part of The (Columbus, Indiana) Republic’s staff, he also won the Kent Cooper award, the top honor given by the Associated Press Managing Editors for the best overall news writing in the state. A graduate of Indiana State University, he is a soccer aficionado (Borussia Dortmund and 1. FC Köln), singer and travel enthusiast who has visited countries on five continents. He speaks fluent German, rudimentary French and bits of Spanish, Italian, Khmer and Mandarin.


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