Technology Profile: New Point-of-Care Diagnostic for Epilepsy

Utkan Demirci, PhD collaborated with neurologist Steven Schachter, MD, to design a disposable microfluidic chip that can immediately detect the levels of antiepileptic drugs based on a finger-prick sample of blood.

People suffering from epilepsy have long been at a disadvantage when trying to optimize the effectiveness of their antiepileptic drugs (AEDs). To do so involves adjusting the amount and timing of dosages to minimize side effects and maximize seizure control. While the concentration of AEDs in a patient's blood can guide the process, traditional blood tests require patients to travel to a provider location and often wait days for the results. Utkan Demirci, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and his research team are close to disrupting the decades-old paradigm with a simple hand-held device that patients can use virtually anywhere to measure AED blood levels in about 10 minutes. Dr. Demirci collaborated with neurologist Steven Schachter, MD, to design this novel point-of-care disposable microfluidic chip that can immediately detect the levels of antiepileptic drugs based on a finger-prick sample of blood. “Our technology has some basic clinical rationale,” Dr. Demirci says. “The dosage of these drugs varies from patient to patient, and it is important to keep the level of the drugs in the blood of the patient within certain boundaries.” If the concentration of AEDs is too high or too low, serious side effects can ensue. If a person with epilepsy has a seizure, for example, the single-prick glucose test would allow EMS paramedics or emergency room caregivers to determine the concentration of AEDs in the patient's bloodstream. The device will provide them with the information they need to decide how to treat the patient immediately, without having to wait for blood tests to be processed by a central lab. “It can take hours to get a blood test result, and the blood usually would not be drawn when the side effect is occurring,” Dr. Demirci says. “The caregiver needs to know the level and concentration of AEDs right then, because it changes immediately after the event. That's why we need an accurate bedside test for epilepsy.” Dr. Demirci's lab team is working to optimize the technology to ensure the correct sensitivity is achieved within the necessary clinical limits for the testing. He believes they have approximately one more year of testing on their portable reader prototype before the technology can be licensed. Eventually, parents, caregivers or even patients should be able to administer the test at home, using the readouts to monitor their condition, report to their physician or implement treatments their physician provided in advance. In addition to helping patients with epilepsy, the technology can be applied to other types of blood measurements as well, such as quantifying viruses in whole blood. Dr. Demirci joined BWH's research staff in December 2006, after earning his doctorate in microdevice technologies, acoustics and electrical engineering at Stanford University. His growing interest in research evolved from engineering to biological applications, primarily focusing on microelectrical-mechanical systems (MEMS), before moving into bioapplications and microdevices. Of his research, he says, “I enjoy learning new things and spending years, sometimes, trying to understand bits and pieces of a problem until it comes into a full picture and can be the basis for a new innovation.”