Georgia Tech team creates superpaper with Dx potential

As promising and helpful as diagnostic tests can be in facilitating medical care, today's state-of-the-art varieties aren't exactly cheap. Enter: paper. Georgia Institute of Technology scientists, by making some basic chemical changes and adding a coating, came up with a way to turn basic paper into a superstructure with potential use as a diagnostic tool that makes medical tests ubiquitous around the world.

Details of their work are published online in the journal ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces.

It's not that paper isn't used for diagnostic purposes. It is. But existing paper diagnostic tech is expensive, and that's where the folks at the Georgia Institute of Technology come in. To make the enhanced paper, the scientists took a few basic steps. As they explain, they first used a mechanical grinding process to break the cellulose fibers into smaller structures. The fibers are pressed in water that's then removed, and the material is then processed a bit with butanol, a chemical that prevents cellulose fibers from engaging in hydrogen binding.

Then, they rely on oxygen plasma etching to remove amorphous cellulose material from the surface, leaving the material better able to repel liquids. Next, a fluoropolymer coating seals the enhanced paper, giving it the ability to repel everything from water to ethylene glycol and certain solvents.

While they see the enhanced paper as having basic industrial applications (better packing material, for example), the Georgia researchers have a definite eye on diagnostics. They see their new "super-paper" as forming the basis for cheap biomedical diagnostics, where liquid samples could flow along patterns printed on the paper (aided by hydrophobic ink and a desktop printer).

The team must complete further research and figure out how to make larger paper samples, but their work may herald a trend in academia focused on the pursuit of better, cheaper paper diagnostic tech that would have a market in the U.S. and around the world, particularly in developing markets. University of Washington scientists, for example, came up with a way to use the cheap industrial solvent divinyl sulfone to make everyday paper stick to medically relevant molecules. The technology could replace nitrocellulose, a more expensive sticky membrane used for paper diagnostics manufacturing.

- read the release
- here's the journal abstract

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