MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – A new sensing device invented at the University of Minnesota could revolutionize the way doctors detect serious illnesses, like cancer and heart disease.

The hand-held device, known as z-Lab, makes the process so simple; a patient could someday have the tests done during a routine checkup and have the results in 15 minutes.

Right now, it’s often after symptoms of a disease have shown up that a patient has a vial of blood drawn.

Then  they wait days, or even weeks, for results.

One of z-Lab’s developers, Todd Klein, said this new device could speed things up considerably.

“With a single drop of blood or urine in this chip we would be able to detect multiple diseases all at the same time.  The number of diseases that could be covered is virtually limitless,” he said.

One drop of body fluid is placed inside the device, and the results show up within 15 minutes on a smart phone or tablet.

With an earlier diagnosis, the patient could receive treatment before it becomes a full-blown disease.

The breakthrough is possible because of tiny biochips that the engineering team, known as the Golden Gopher Magnetic Biosensing Team, developed.

Klein held a biochip in his palm that had 64 different sensors.

“In principle you could detect something like 64 different things all at the same time,” he said.

The project is a collaboration between professors and engineers from the University of Minnesota, doctors from Mayo Clinic and several corporate partners including Zepto Life Technology, Universal Magnetic Systems, R&D Systems, Vates and Jim Sawyer Professional Audio Service.

The team leader, Professor Jian-Ping Wang of the College of Science and Engineering, said z-Lab could also lower health care costs because the earlier a disease is detected, the less expensive it is to treat.

One of his driving forces was the loss of his own father in China.

“He was diagnosed with stomach cancer much [too] late,” Professor Wang said. “Even though he fought the cancer for ten years, he passed away in 2008.”

The device just won a global competition from Nokia, with a prize of $120,000.

It’s taken ten years of intense development and research on the U of M campus, but it’s now before the FDA, awaiting approval.

“I spent so much time over the past five years,” Klein said. “I think I need to make a point to thank my wife for being so patient.”

Since the device is so portable, the research team believes it could also have a big impact in developing countries where resources are scarce.

It will likely be at least two years, though, before it’s available for use by doctors.

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