Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Little Devices Lab have developed a set of modular building blocks that can be used to enable cheap, easy and customised diagnostic tools for a variety of diseases.

Referred to as Ampli blocks, these ‘plug-and-play’ kits do not require high expertise for assemble, refrigeration or special handling.

The devices can be used to test blood glucose levels in diabetic patients or diagnose viral infection, among others capabilities. The researchers are also working on developing devices to detect cancer.

“Upon testing, the team found that the blocks can ‘outperform’ previous paper diagnostic devices in certain aspects.”

Little Devices Lab co-director Anna Young said: “Our long-term motivation is to enable small, low-resources laboratories to generate their own libraries of plug-and-play diagnostics to treat their local patient populations independently.”

While various other portable diagnostic devices are being developed, their usage is said to be limited because of the lack of design for large-scale manufacturability or the limited interest of companies to make a diagnostic for a disease that doesn’t affect a large population.

To address this gap, MIT researchers have developed approximately 40 different blocks that can be easily assembled by lab workers across the globe to create a diagnostic tool specifically for their need.

The components of the construction kits comprise a sheet of paper or glass fibre sandwiched between a glass cover and a block made of plastic or metal.

MIT noted that the blocks can fit together along any edge, and have different channels for samples to flow through, such as straight or with turns. They can also work with various biochemical functions.

Upon testing, the team found that the blocks can ‘outperform’ previous paper diagnostic devices in certain aspects.

The blocks come colour-coded by function and the researchers plan to make the instructions for assembling predesigned devices online.

The team is currently developing tests for human papilloma virus, malaria and Lyme disease, among others. They will additionally devise a way to synthesise useful compounds such as drugs.

The researchers are also evaluating large-scale manufacturing techniques and intend to establish a company to manufacture and distribute the kits.