Some 300,000 people in the Netherlands suffer from some form of manic depression, or ‘bipolar disorder’. Around ten per cent are prescribed medication which can be extremely toxic if too much is taken. The company Medimate, a spin-off of University of Twente’s MESA+ research institute, has developed a special nanochip which enables patients to determine the concentration of the medication in their bodies.
People with manic depression (bipolar disorder) experience extreme mood swings. During the manic period they are extremely happy: they are on an 'up'. Sooner or later, however, this will be followed by the 'down': a bout of serious depression. To stabilize these mood swings many patients are prescribed lithium, which has an effect on the central nervous system. In order to gain the full benefit, it is essential that the patient takes the lithium precisely as prescribed, in terms of both frequency and dosage.
Lithium is extremely toxic if taken in excess. When the level of lithium in the blood is too high, the patient is at significant risk of kidney failure. An overdose of lithium can also lead to the neurological disorder Parkinson's Disease. Taking more lithium than the established norm is thus highly dangerous.
It is therefore extremely important that the patient takes enough lithium to control his or her condition, but not too much. The lithium chip, developed by Twente spin-off Medimate, can help. The patient pricks a finger and places a small drop of blood on the chip. The various elements in the blood are then separated by the process of electrophoresis, which causes particles carrying an electrical charge - including lithium - to move down a channel each with its own velocity. The chip can then measure the precise concentration of lithium in the blood.
Watch a video about the lithium chip