Researchers develop quick, cheap jaundice test

Monash University researchers have developed a quick, cheap test to detect jaundice in infants.

The paper test for bilirubin levels, which provides results in less than 10 minutes at a cost of about 60 cents each, was on the verge of extensive clinical trials in June this year.

The joint development by Monash University’s Faculty of Engineering, the Monash Institute of Medical Engineering and Monash Health, has the potential to be commercialised for point-of-care diagnosis of neonatal jaundice in both homecare and hospital settings.

Jaundice is a common condition that impacts roughly 60% of newborns. A newborn’s bilirubin levels peak at about two to four days of age, commonly when they are already back home.

However, severe jaundice can cause brain damage if left untreated. The affected baby often needs a home visit from a nurse and a blood test, which can be expensive and takes time for results to determine whether hospital readmission is required.

Monash researchers, led by Professor Wei Shen and Dr Weirui Tan from the Department of Chemical Engineering, in collaboration with clinical champions Associate Professor Dr James Doery and Dr Katrina Harris, have developed a paper test for bilirubin levels.

The method developed by the research team uses tape-paper sensing and involves blood being applied directly onto paper which is capable of separating plasma from whole blood and measuring bilirubin by a colorimetric diazotization method.

“The most promising aspect of the tape-paper sensing approach for neonatal blood sample measurement has been verified in comparison with the current hospital pathology laboratory method. And it can be done in the family home, anywhere in the world, with almost instant results,” Dr Shen said.

Using blood samples from jaundiced neonates between the ages of 1-15 days, supplied by Monash Children’s Hospital, the novel device was tested to screen the bilirubin levels whether below or above the threshold concentration based on the colour intensity comparison.

The novel tape-paper sensor generates uniform colour distribution on the paper by eliminating the “coffee stain” effect through two mechanisms. “This improves the accuracy of colorimetric evaluation on paper-based analytical devices,” Dr Tan said.

“Such methodology is helpful to doctors and parents in determining if further clinical treatment needs to be adopted.

“The ability to commercialise these tape-paper sensors means we can get this into the hands of hospitals and nurses so they can provide timely care and support to newborns and their families.”

Main image: Traida