Nano-bio-chip detects heart attacks

HOUSTON Walter Johnson had a heart attack, and a saliva test confirmed it.

"Doing it with a swab, just getting a little saliva, I think is a great thing," Johnson said.

So does his doctor.

"If we were to be able to administer the saliva test early on at home or in the ambulance -- before the patient set foot in the hospital -- it probably would save more lives," Baylor College of Medicine Cardiologist Dr. Biykem Bozhurt said.

The nano-bio-chip test is not a DNA test. It looks for molecules that show disease, called biomarkers. And it can find them in 15 minutes.

That means patients like Johnson could receive faster treatment.

"This is the nano-bio-chip. It's basically the brain of this particular task," Rice Professor John McDevitt said.

McDevitt invented a portable analyzer that moves the saliva to the round microchip. Then he says a souped-up camera looks for disease.

Progress on the nano-bio-chip is moving quickly now. Besides heart attack, it's already effectively being used for HIV, and they're doing studies on diabetes, trauma and three types of cancer.

McDevitt says the chip can be trained to look for 37 different diseases by using saliva, urine or blood.

"We take the chip and we begin to reprogram it for the different biomarkers," he said.

McDevitt was recruited by Rice last year from Austin, but he says it was the Texas Medical Center that drew him here. He is now conducting four simultaneous studies with three different hospitals and more to come.

"Houston can be the Silicon Valley for the next generation of medical tests," McDevitt said.

He says as the computer chips get cheaper every year, so will his medical tests.

McDevitt traveled to Washington DC, where the government is asking how quickly he can expand his research to more diseases. The government hopes the test will be so fast and easy it will allow patients to avoid more costly tests.

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