Packaging film shows promise as a low-cost alternative for medical tests

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American Chemical Society Researchers from Harvard University's Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering used the bubble in protective film packaging as a replacement for test tubes.

A new cheap way to run tests on medical and environmental samples has been developed using the plastic packaging staple — the air filled flexible packaging film commonly called bubble wrap. 

George Whitesides at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University and his team conceived the idea when visiting labs in developing countries where they could not afford even basic equipment.

“Scientists often have bubble wrap around the lab because other equipment is shipped in it. Bubble wrap has several characteristics that make it attractive as a candidate for adaptive use as a container for liquid samples: it is available in a wide range of sizes and it is compartmentalized in a regular pattern, which is useful for parallel multi-bubble assays. It is also a transparent and sealed container.” Dionysios Christodouleas, part of Whitesides team, told European Plastics News, a sister publication of Plastics News.

The team used the plastic bubbles of bubble wrap as containers to perform assays for the detection of anemia and diabetes, and for the storage of microorganisms.

In a paper published in July, the team noted that it used a needle to insert a sample inside the air pocket, then sealed it with nail polish. Sealed Air Corp. of Elmwood Park, N.J., developed and owns the trade name Bubble Wrap.

“While conducting this work, we also found that the interior of the bubbles are sterile, which further increases the scope of their application for the transport of biological samples and in performing bacterial cultures and bio-analysis,” said Christodouleas. 

Although there are limitations to using bubble wrap, including the fact that the process of filling the bubbles requires the use of syringes or pipet tips and sealant, the team have high hopes for the future.

“Using bubbles of bubble wrap as containers for analytical assays can significantly reduce the cost of necessary storage containers. In resource-limited settings, any reduction of the cost of analysis, which also includes the cost of the necessary reagents, the instrumentation and the trained personnel, is an important step towards making important health test procedures available to local communities,” said Christodouleas.