Soon, Office Paper Could Tell You If You're Ill (Or Pregnant)

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Researchers are developing new ways to make affordable, chemically-sensitive paper that could diagnose malaria, diabetes, pregnancy and plenty more—and it might even show up in your office.


Currently, there's one major application which uses sensitive paper: home pregnancy tests. If you've ever bought one, you'll know they're expensive, and that's because the paper in them relies on a membrane, called nitrocellulose, to "catch" molecules of interest. But there's a better way, explains researcher Daniel Ratner to CNET:

"We want to develop something to not just ask a single question but ask many personal health questions... Is there protein in the urine? Is this person diabetic? Do they have malaria or influenza?"

Instead of expensive, single-purpose paper, Ratner has been developing paper that can bind to a whole fleet of chemicals, including DNA, antibodies, and sugars. To do that, his team simply coats paper in an industrial solvent, in which a range of biomolecules are suspended. When the paper is exposed to a chemical which reacts with the biomolecules, you can see a distinctive change in color. The results are published in Langmuir.

The experiments so far have used plain-old office paper as a base, and the scientists are confident that in the future the sensing technology should be "ultracheap". Who said a paperless office was the future? [Langmuir via CNET]

Image by photosteve101 under Creative Commons license



The potential invasion of privacy and HIPPA issues with this are huge. Employment applications with drug, pregnancy and HIV tests built in are the first thing that pops to mind and there are endlessly ways this could be used to invade your privacy, all of which are illegal.