Monash University in Australia has created a rapid and cost-effective paper test for checking bilirubin levels to detect jaundice in newborns. The test could potentially become a point-of-care diagnostic for at-home and hospital use.

The test is co-developed by Monash University’s Faculty of Engineering, the Monash Institute of Medical Engineering and Monash Health.

The test utilises tape-paper sensing and requires a simple kit as well as a small quantity of samples and reagents.

A blood sample can be applied directly onto paper that separates plasma from whole blood and measures bilirubin levels using a colourimetric diazotisation method.

The tape-paper sensor creates an even colour distribution on the paper by eradicating the ‘coffee stain’ effect through two mechanisms.

Designed to deliver results in under ten minutes, the tests would cost only $0.6 each, Monash noted.

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Monash University department of chemical engineering professor Wei Shen said: “The most promising aspect of the tape-paper sensing approach for neonatal blood sample measurement has been verified in comparison with the current hospital pathology laboratory method.

“And it can be done in the family home, anywhere in the world, with almost instant results.”

The new device was tested to check the bilirubin levels of jaundiced neonates aged one to 15 days using blood samples supplied by Monash Children’s Hospital. It measured bilirubin levels below or above the threshold concentration by comparing the colour intensity.

Furthermore, the device will be studied in a bedside setting before commercialisation.

A common condition, jaundice affects nearly 60% of newborns within 15 days of birth. Their bilirubin levels can increase at approximately two to four days of age.

Some babies with jaundice need hospitalisation for a period of phototherapy and if untreated, the disease can lead to brain damage.

The new test could aid in easy monitoring of bilirubin levels, especially for babies in remote and regional areas or under-resourced poorer countries, in turn enabling better treatment.