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Top Story

Sound waves create whirlpools to round up tiny signs of disease

National Science Foundation-funded mechanical engineers have demonstrated a tiny whirlpool that can concentrate nanoparticles using nothing but sound. The innovation could gather proteins and other biological structures from blood, urine or saliva samples for future diagnostic devices. Early diagnosis is key to successfully treating many diseases, but spotting early indicators of a problem is often challenging. To pick out the first warning signs, physicians usually must concentrate scarce proteins, antibodies or other biomarkers from small samples of a patient’s body fluid to provide enough of a signal for detection. In a new study, researchers paired a small acoustic transducer to a glass cylinder to produce a whirlpool that can capture these disease-signaling nanoparticles in its vortex. The system shows early promise for new diagnostic devices because it is compact, inexpensive, low-energy and does not alter the properties of the corralled particles.

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