Skip to Content

Scientists Think a Simple Paper Strip Could Tell if You Have Cancer or Malaria

The 50 cent paper strip test could reduce the need for doctor visits in poor nations.The 50 cent paper strip test could reduce the need for doctor visits in poor nations.
The 50 cent paper strip test could reduce the need for doctor visits in poor nations.Photo by Pam Frost Gorder—Courtesy of The Ohio State University

Scientists at the Ohi0 State University (OSU) may be on the cusp of reducing diagnostics for diseases like malaria and even cancer down to a cheap, simple paper strip blood test.

Paper and plastic strips are already commonly used for simpler diagnostics such as urine-based home pregnancy tests. But, as the Ohio State University announced on Wednesday, a team led by OSU chemistry and biochemistry professor Abraham Badu-Tawiah is working on a new kind of paper-based blood test that could detect a far wider range of conditions and potentially be a boon to sick people in the world’s poorest regions. The test would involve pricking one’s self to produce a small blood drop.

“We want to empower people,” said Badu-Tawiah. “If you care at all about your health and you have reason to worry about a condition, then you don’t want to wait until you get sick to go to the hospital. You could test yourself as often as you want.”

Click here to subscribe to our new Brainstorm Health Daily Newsletter.

Badu-Tawiah’s hope is that patients in developing nations who suspect they may have malaria could use the paper strip technology, which would cost 50 cents per strip (and less if it reaches mass production), in the convenience of their homes before mailing the test to a facility with a mass spectrometer device. This device would then be able to pick up on tell-tale biological markers in the blood strips that reveal whether or not someone has a particular disease.

Unlike more pricey plastic strips, Badu-Tawiah’s method involves two pieces of regular paper attached together with an adhesive and then run through a printer which uses a special wax ink that can better preserve patients’ blood drop samples. That, combined with charged “ionic probes” covering the test strip, help identify antibodies which can then draw out the biological breadcrumbs that indicate whether or not you have a certain disease.

The experimental process has several other distinct advantages for patients in developing regions, including the ability to survive hot weather when being shipped to a testing facility. Badu-Tawiah said that the tech has also successfully been used to discern other biomarkers, including ones that correspond with certain cancers.

Next-gen blood diagnostics have been on a roll recently, Theranos’ ongoing woes notwithstanding. A growing number of firms including Guardant Health are trying to replace what they call outdated, pricey, and invasive ways of testing for cancer and other diseases, with the ultimate goal of making early and cheaper diagnoses the reigning medical standard.