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Blood Chemistry

  1. Jul 3, 2016 #1
    I have this curiosity about how easy or difficult it has to be to find out everything that is in a person's blood. Through all the tools we have available today, would it be possible to find out what is in our blood? From TSH to blood sugar, to cholesterol, isn't there a simpler way of finding out what a person's levels are than going to the hospital, having your blood drawn and waiting a few days? Why can't devices that allow us to check our blood sugar also test levels of iron, lead and calcium and whatever else? Is it possible to do all these blood tests on a compact device?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 3, 2016 #2
    Sure, your GP, family doctor, or whatever it is where you live, they can take a blood sample and give a detailed analysis of the sample.
    That takes trained people to do their stuff though and it takes time, we don't have star-trek tri-recorders yet.
  4. Jul 3, 2016 #3

    jim mcnamara

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    Because of the prevalence of type I & type II diabetes, there are a maqny brands of available blood glucose test kits (require finger prick) and even wearable monitors that check blood sugar. Most of these devices are expensive, so people do not run out and buy them for fun.

    But. More importantly, are tests for TSH every day necessary for a large number of people? And most especially if you got results could you interpret them correctly? Probably not. How about creatinine, or potassium? Would you respond correctly to some result with otherwise dire consequences?

    My answer to those questions is: no. Which is the real reason those kinds of devices are not commonplace. Some do exist, at least experimentally.
  5. Jul 3, 2016 #4


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    Testing for blood sugar usually involves putting blood on a little strip that has been impregnated with chemicals which react with glucose. I guess you could have strips which have different chemicals on different areas to test for other things, but this is more expensive, more complex (for both the strips and the detector), and requires more blood.
  6. Jul 4, 2016 #5

    Fervent Freyja

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    Much of blood testing is done in an indirect manner, which can involve many different types of complex procedures. The specimen must often be manipulated and may need different control measures- it can get laborious, lengthy and very exacting, multiple procedures may be required. Thyroid testing usually involves 2 separate assays for T3 and T4, and even the methods and scale range is dependent upon the particular lab that is testing and the specimen itself changes the procedure. Heck, some labs have their *secret* recipe dyes for staining slides (another diagnostic method is simple light microscopy). Though, testing for iron levels is more straightforward, when I was pregnant they often pricked my finger during visits and a nearby machine give results on the spot. Also, a blood sample from one area of the body does not guarantee that the composition is uniform throughout the body at that moment. The composition can vary and depend on other factors (like time of day, intake of food/fluids, etc.).

    If it were actually possible to place some methods of testing on one compact device: An affordable compact device like this would make testing for deadly diseases like malaria, sleeping sickness, and ebola in third world countries much more accessible and affordable. It is not uncommon for travel time, self-denial, affordability, and many other reasons to put off a person even when they are very, very sick (in any country, really). But, if dispersed heavily enough that most of these people had at least a community or familial access to the devices, then positive results from the device would most certainly motivate them to seek treatment. I recently watched a documentary where a young mother did not seek treatment until after at least a week of watching her infant display signs of sleeping sickness, he was near death upon arrival. Any disposable device like this will have a much higher error/failure rate than a lab, which carries a liability so risky that most westernized nations would not even bother, but if it is the only real option to save lives, then I can see it being valuable in this case. It would allow for a quicker intervention of deadly diseases (increasing survival chances), which prevents transmission and make it easier to identify more exact locations of outbreaks in an area - if used for that alone, could save hundreds of thousands of people all over the world each year. I would rather these people receive such a device first. I have the time to wait. Too many do not. If it were remotely easy to make some types of blood testing compact, then we would see it being used in areas such as this (there are a lot of people working on these problems).
  7. Jul 4, 2016 #6


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    Indeed. That's exactly what they do when testing my iron levels when I donate blood.
  8. Jul 4, 2016 #7


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    It should be noted that one of the big scandals in the biotech industry is around a start-up company, Theranos, that aimed to do just what the OP suggested—develop a technology that could run hundreds of diagnostic tests on a single drop of blood. The company raised a ton of venture capital and began a partnership with Walgreens to sell its tests to customers. However, amid scrutiny that none of Theranos' technologies have ever been published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, Theranos has more recently faced allegations of fraud and federal investigations over whether its technologies actually work:

    So there are definitely people interested in improving blood tests, but doing so may be more difficult that one might think.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 8, 2017
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