Portable test platform facilitates global identification of iron and vitamin A deficiency, claim scientists

By Tim Cutcliffe

- Last updated on GMT

© iStock/ uchschen
© iStock/ uchschen

Related tags Vitamin a Vitamin a deficiency

A hand-held device that provides rapid results could transform assessment of micronutrient deficiencies, says a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The ability to obtain accurate assessments of iron and vitamin A status within 15 minutes has been developed by researchers at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

The portable diagnostic device, about the size of a lunchbox uses a blood sample test strip. The strip measures three blood markers at the same time.

“Our testing platform simultaneously quantifies concentrations of ferritin, retinol-binding protein, and C-reactive protein (CRP), allowing one to diagnose iron and vitamin A deficiency and inflammation status (to better inform and help with the interpretation of the result) in about 15 minutes,” ​wrote first author Zhengda Lu.

The device can be read using a standard laptop, or through NutriPhone, a smartphone based micronutrient testing system, previously by Cornell University in partnership with others.

The platform can provide accurate quantifications of the three markers over a huge range of physiological concentrations, which can vary over five orders of magnitude, the researchers claim.

The test kit achieved sensitivities of 88%, 100% and 80% for ferritin, RBP and CRP respectively. The corresponding specificities were all 97% or above.

Public health significance

The new platform represents a low-cost, rapid means of detecting deficiencies at the point of care, advocate the researchers. This could be of great assistance in identifying and monitoring vitamin A and iron deficiencies in developing countries that lack resources to implement conventional testing programs.

"Vitamin A and iron deficiency affect more than one-third of the world's population. Problems resulting from these deficiencies -- such as blindness, anaemia and death, particularly among children and women -- are a major public health challenge,"​ said Professor Saurabh Mehta, from the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell, one of the paper’s senior authors.

Early diagnosis critical

"Doctors and health professionals have sought to reduce the burden of micronutrient deficiencies and their consequences, but it's difficult since we must detect them early on to have the largest impact,"​ continued Mehta. "Most developing countries don't have access to the needed, sophisticated tools to enable early diagnosis. This test has the potential to solve that."

"We must address the micronutrient problem at the individual level -- which is a much easier task. The key to solving these micronutrient deficiency problems is early detection and early intervention,"​ said David Erickson, the Sibley College Professor at Cornell's Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, a senior author on the paper. "Having information, we can change or supplement diets, if we know who is deficient -- and we are more likely to prevent complications, and keep children and women healthy."

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Published online, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1711464114
Rapid diagnostic testing platform for iron and vitamin A deficiency”
Authors: Zhengda Lu, Saurabh Mehta, David Erickson et al

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