Blood ammonia levels in people with liver disease or other metabolic disorders can quickly climb to dangerous levels,media New Atlas reported. Unfortunately, checking these levels is not a quick and easy process. However, a newly developed device could change that. Ammonia is a by-product of the digestive process, converting from the liver into urea, which is then excreted in the form of urine. Problems can arise if a person’s body does not metabolize ammonia sufficiently to build up in the blood.
If this condition is not treated, it can lead to physical and mental problems, including brain damage. In the case of newborns, this damage can occur within a few hours of an increase in blood ammonia levels. What’s more, testing the ammonia levels in the blood requires shipping a refrigerated sample to the lab and then waiting for at least two hours because the sample will be centrifuged and biochemically tested. Even so, it is not uncommon for the first time the testing process fails, and a second sample needs to be taken for analysis.
With these limitations in mind, scientists at Stanford University have developed a portable blood ammonia detector that can be used anywhere and deliver results in a minute. What’s more, it requires only a drop of blood from the patient, which is said to be 1% less than the amount required for traditional laboratory tests. The prototype is about the size of a TV remote control and can use a cheap test strip designed specifically for it.
The user first drops a drop of blood at one end of these test notes. The liquid then passes through a hole in the test strip, along a microfluidic passage, and is sucked into a paper well at the other end of the test strip, inside the device. A cheap chemical in a well separates any ammonia that is present in the blood. Sensors located directly above the well can easily detect and quantify ammonia to provide users with readings.
The prototype has been tested on blood samples with ammonia and taken from patients with known high levels of ammonia. The readings are consistent with the readings obtained through traditional test methods.
“I’ve spoken to families of children with this condition, and it’s exciting to have this device, because for them, the consequences of not having an accurate and fast check for blood ammonia are so severe,” said Associate Natalia Gomez-Ospina, a team member who developed the test. “For these families, it could change their lives.”
The research paper, led by Professor Gilbert Chu, was recently published in the journal ACS Sensors.