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A disposable self-heating cartridge for point-of-care molecular diagnostics

A water-activated, self-heating, instrument-free microfluidic diagnostic cartridge


Many molecular diagnostic devices require elevated temperatures to carry out biochemical reactions, such as those needed for nucleic acid amplification, including loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP).  The temperature is typically regulated with external electrical power, controller, and heating elements, which increases cost and complexity. Lateral flow immunoassays, while offering straightforward and rapid detection, suffer from low sensitivity and specificity.


Researchers in the Bau Lab have developed a point-of-care microfluidic diagnostic cartridge that can amplify nucleic acids isothermally with high specificity. The device is integrated with an exothermic heater and temperature regulator that provides a steady temperature without needing external electric power. A porous paper strip determines the rate of water supply for heater activation, triggered by an exothermic reaction with a magnesium alloy. A phase-change material of paraffin is embedded in the cartridge to maintain the temperature at the desired level, i.e., 60oC-65oC for LAMP. The cartridge utility has been demonstrated by amplifying and detecting E. coli DNA using LAMP, detecting as few as 10 molecules in a sample.


  • Self-contained device without specialized instrumentation or electricity
  • Maintain consistent desired temperature independent of ambient temperature
  • Use in clinic, home, field, or resource-poor settings
  • Low-cost disposable device


  • Cartridge for isothermal nucleic acid amplification and visual fluorescent or colorimetric detection
  • Point-of-care diagnostic device
  • Detect viruses, bacteria, and pathogens borne in bodily fluids

From Liu et al, 2011.  Photograph of water-activated, self-heating, non-instrumented cartridge for isothermal amplification of nucleic acids.

Stage of Development: 

Proof-of-concept and prototype developed with demonstrated utility of nucleic acid amplification and detection

Intellectual Property: 

Reference Media: 

Lu C. et al.  Lab on a Chip, 2011, 11(9), p. 1688-1693.

Desired Partnerships: 

  • License
  • Co-development

Patent Information:


Docket # X5912

For Information, Contact:

Joshua Jeanson Associate Director, SEAS/SAS Licensing Group
University of Pennsylvania