Offices are increasingly trying to go paperless, but new research is showing that might not be the best idea. With workers spending as many as 14 hours in the office sometimes, researchers are developing office paper that can diagnose diseases and conditions as diverse as malaria, diabetes and pregnancy. And why not? If you're working 14 hours a day, there's no way you'll be able to get to a pharmacy or doctor.
Currently, sensitive paper is used in only one application - home pregnancy tests. The tests are relatively expensive though, because the paper on the stick requires the use of a membrane that catches the molecules that it needs. But Daniel Ratner, from the University of Washington, and his colleagues were convinced that there was a better way. Their hope is to create a cheap paper that can let molecules from DNA, antibodies and sugar stick to the paper. The team engineered office paper to do the trick.
In a statement, Ratner said, "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?"
The team says they coat paper with an industrial solvent called divinyl sulfone, which has been used in pastes for years. They used a process in which they diluted the solvent in water to control its acidity, they then put the solution and paper into a Ziploc bag. After shaking it and then letting the paper dry, the scientists had what they wanted. The paper feels smooth to touch, but is sticky on a molecular level.
In order to test the capacity of the paper, the researchers ran it through an inkjet printer that issued sugar galactose instead of ink. The molecules were printed in an invisible pattern, but when exposed to fluorescent ricin, a poison that sticks to the sugar, the design revealed itself.
The study was published in Langmuir.