This tiny device that can rapidly detect harmful bacteria in the blood

New device could help professionals diagnose and fight deadly infections.


Drug-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, are a significant public health concern. Globally, at least 700,000 individuals kick the bucket every year because of drug-resistant infections, including 230,000 passings from multidrug-resistant tuberculosis. That number could take off to 10 million deaths every year by 2050 if no action is taken.

Engineers at Rutgers University have come up with a multiplexed, miniaturized, inexpensive, and transparent device to detect harmful bacteria in the blood rapidly. Interestingly, the device allows health care professionals to pinpoint the cause of potentially deadly infections and fight them with drugs.

This new device rapidly isolates, retrieves, and concentrates target bacteria from bodily fluids. It then filters particles and bacteria, capturing about 86 percent of them.

The device is stacked with magnetic beads to efficiently trap, concentrate, and retrieve Escherichia coli (E. coli) from the bacterial suspension and pig plasma. There are small voids between the magnetic beads to isolate the bacteria in the device physically.

Using computational fluid dynamics, three-dimensional (3D) tomography technology, and machine learning, engineers, probed and explained the bead stacking in a small 3D space with various flow rates.

A combination of beads with different sizes is utilized to achieve a high capture efficiency (∼86%) with a flow rate of 50 μL/min. Leveraging the high deformability of this device, an E. coli sample can be retrieved from the designated bacterial suspension by applying a higher flow rate followed by rapid magnetic separation.

The device is easy to fabricate and operate, making it ideal for detecting disease-causing organisms in laboratory and health care settings. Engineers are now working on perfecting the device and planning to add multiple devices onto a small chip and explore scaling up testing in the field.

Coauthor Ruo-Qian (Roger) Wang, an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the School of Engineering at Rutgers University-New Brunswick, said“The rapid identification of drug-resistant bacteria allows health care providers to prescribe the right drugs, boosting the chances of survival.”

The study was conducted in collaboration with scientists at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa; Carollo Engineers, Inc.; Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute in China; and The State University of New York, Binghamton.

  1. Rapid Escherichia coli Trapping and Retrieval from Bodily Fluids via a Three-Dimensional Bead-Stacked Nanodevice. DOI: 10.1021/acsami.9b19311