Nucleic acid quantification in Uganda using a portable, energy-flexible device
Ryan Snodgrass, Cornell University

The decentralization of diagnostics in resource limited settings can reduce the time to treatment of many infectious diseases. In Uganda, for example, diagnosis of a common cancer called Kaposi’s sarcoma may be unsuccessful because human biopsy samples must travel from rural healthcare clinics to central pathology labs, which compromises the chain of communication with patients. As an alternative to pathology, nucleic-acid-based diagnosis of Kaposi’s sarcoma is being pursued. We built a small (1 kg) device that performs nucleic acid amplification using any heat source available, such as sunlight, flame, or electricity – making the device practical to use at both rural clinics and in central laboratories. Fluorescence and turbidity of up to six samples is tracked in real-time to provide quantification of target DNA. Furthermore, the device stores large amounts of heat in a phase change material to maintain proper conditions for the nucleic acid assay even if an energy source is disrupted (e.g. electricity outage, cloud coverage). We deployed many of the devices to Uganda in 2017, where they are still in use today. We discuss how the device works, our field trial to Uganda, and future directions of the project.

Ryan Snodgrass received his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Cornell University in 2019. During graduate school, Ryan was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, and he will soon begin as a National Research Council Postdoctoral Fellow at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). At Cornell, Ryan built a variety of energy-flexible devices for nucleic acid quantification and also pursued a project in alternative, solid-state refrigeration methods. He is from Cincinnati, Ohio.