Diagnosing Diseases Like MacGyver


If you ever watched MacGyver as a kid, you know that given any number of random objects, he could craft the exact tool he would need to get out of a sticky situation. If he ever made his way into the medical research field, you could be sure that this test for Acute Pancreatitis would be among his list of accomplishments.

Designed by University of Texas grad student [Brian Zaccheo], the Acute Pancreatitis test seen in the image above looks as unassuming as it is effective. Crafted out of little more than foil, jello, and milk, the test takes under an hour to diagnose patients while costing less than a dollar.

The test works by checking the patient’s blood for trypsin, an enzyme present in high concentrations if they are suffering from pancreatitis. Once a few drops of the patient’s blood is placed on the gelatin layer of the test, it is left to sit for a bit, after which sodium hydroxide is added. If elevated trypsin levels are present, it will have eaten through the gelatin and milk protein, creating a pathway for the sodium hydroxide to reach the foil layer. If the foil is dissolved within an hour, a circuit is formed and a small LED lights up, indicating that the patient has acute pancreatitis.

The test really is ingenious when you think about it, and will be a huge help to doctors practicing in developing countries, under less than ideal working conditions.

[via PopSci via Gizmodo]

28 thoughts on “Diagnosing Diseases Like MacGyver

  1. Awww… I was waiting for the second half of the post to explain how the half dollar coin was then used to cut out the patient’s pancreas. :(

    Even in my disappointed state I tip my hat to Brian for this little device.

  2. reading the article its difficult not to think that a lot of the device is superfluous, there must be a much simpler way to detect the jelly has been eaten through than passing another chemical through to remove another barrier to light an led.
    if your worried about cost then surely an easier way is possible?
    less chance of component failure too.

  3. For those of us that suffer from Chronic Pancreatitis when a acute attack is occurring, we know. Yet, having a test that will diagnose it is nice and that is inexpensive is awesome.

  4. Very clever.

    If it was really going to be rolled out en masse as ‘cheap as possible’ then I’d have the same concerns as pff.

    But as an example piece, it’s very clever :)

  5. It would be better if the LED was normally on and went off if there was a problem detected.

    As it stands, you could wait and wait and not know when the test was finished (maybe you would leave it early), or maybe there could have been a battery / circuit failure – which is effectively saying “all ok”.

    Just a small point really.

  6. This is very cool but fairly useless in the sense of doctors. trypsin tips in at about 65% for both sensitive/specific to pancratitis the traditional test amylase comes in at about 95-90% and these are lab tests.

    Compounded with the sensitivity/speficity of this test makes it useful even in light of a good history

  7. someone should bring back the Mac, only this time, he isn’t limited to 80’s electronics, but he also isn’t allowed to purchase an Arduino or anything like that. The pure of heart, never banging the hotties, character MacGyver would construct a test like this on one of his travels to third-world countries. Maybe he could battle MacGruber as well.

  8. Just pour a layer of gelatin with some phenolphthalein into the plastic box, then pour the milk protein gel on top. The trypsin eats a channel down to the bottom layer, then the sodium hydroxide penetrates and stains the phenolphthalein red. Red color in an hour = positive test.

  9. people seem to be missing that the lye makes this into a battery that lights the led. as in no external power. and it is faster than the 90 percent effective tests and cheaper. so you could easily run this one and follow up with a second.

  10. @smoker_dave, even if it was the other way, if the test is negative, you would still end up waiting not knowing if the test is complete or if the result is negative.

    So, there’s no win-win here.

  11. MacGyver doesn’t have time to wait for jello to set…he’d just dive into the ocean and rip a chunk of blubber off the nearest whale. Or was that Chuck Norris? I seem to forget…

  12. Serum trypsin falls in chronic pancratitis also. Certainly enough that renders this test useless in that case when considered along with the sensi/specif.

  13. My mother almost dies due to an acute attack of pancreatitis.While I am thankful she had the US foremost experts on the condition i think the tests were about $8k to confirm something they already knew was occurring…For less than $1 each run 10 tests concurrently to be more accurate it would still be a huge savings.

  14. Remember, the creator of this diagnostic device was thinking of practicing medicine in 3rd world countries, not in a fully equipped hospital lab. So stop with the hatin’.

    That said, this is the first iteration of the device. He should find a temperature stable substitute for the jelatin as refrigeration is often limited in rural clinics.

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