Hydrogen peroxide is an important signalling molecule in the human body. It is a stable molecule which diffuses and transports (chemicals) across the cell membrane. This enables cellular signalling away from the site of production. Hydrogen peroxide further induces cell migration, immunity generation, and cellular communication.

Outside of this, hydrogen peroxide also has relevance in the food and paper industries, environmental analysis, mineral processing, and in fuel cells.

An imbalance in the level of hydrogen peroxide to the antioxidants can lead to damage of nucleic acids and diseases related to oxidative stress such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, inflammatory disorders, asthma, and so on. Thus, the hydrogen peroxide level in the blood can be used to detect and understand the diseases in the body.

Unfortunately, the current methods used to measure hydrogen peroxide levels are not reliable. This is because the level changes between the time of collection and the actual measurement of the sample.

The reported concentration of measured hydrogen peroxide in blood spans from micro-molar to mid milli-molar. This variation is attributed to a lack of understanding of how the concentration of hydrogen peroxide dynamically changes between the sample collection and measurement.

Prof Ashis Kumar Sen and R Gaikwad of Indian Institute of Technology Madras, and Dr PR Thangaraj of Apollo Hospitals, Chennai, have come up with a novel method for fast, real-time and automated measurement of hydrogen peroxide, using an integrated microfluidic device.

It is known that blood cells and proteins change the amount of hydrogen peroxide in the blood. Thus, in the first module, blood plasma is separated using ultrasonic waves. In the second module, there is mixing and incubation of the sample along with sample dilution to reduce the interference from the proteins. In the third module, optical devices are used to detect the amount of hydrogen peroxide.

The experiment was considered a success, as the proposed microfluidic device separates the plasma from the blood using direct and real-time blood plasma separation module.

Also, the sample processing and measurement of hydrogen peroxide were done instantaneously after an incubation interval of 15 minutes.

The availability of this microfluidic device at the point of care will help in understanding the role of hydrogen peroxide in health and disease.

Prof Amit Agarwal of IIT Bombay had this to say on the study: “The use of microfluidic-based point-of-care devices is expected to revolutionise the way blood test and testing of other biological samples are done in the future.”

(This article first appeared in ‘IIT-M Tech Talk’)