Photo by Hush Naidoo on Unsplash
Nina: Nana why are you looking so glum? You’re just sitting sadly, not even complaining about the huge mess I am making with my new chemistry set. What’s the matter?
Nana: Today is my birthday.
Nina: Gosh, that’s no reason to be sad. Happy Birthday Nana. Should I arrange for a party? I can invite all my friends to make noise and you can yell at them. Then you can feel better, like Oscar the grouch from Sesame Street!
Nana: Do what you like. I won’t be home.
Nina: Nana, what happened? You’re scaring me. Where are you going?
Nana: I have to go to the hospital.
Nina: Hospital? Why? Are you sick?
Nana: I don’t know yet. I always do my annual medical check up on my birthday. Both events remind me I am very old, so I like to get them out of my way, together.
Nina: Oh Nana, don’t mope about being old. It takes the fun out of teasing you for it. Is this your new strategy to stop me from teasing you?
Nana: It’s scary getting tests done when you are so old. Sooner or later something is bound to break down. Besides, I hate the blood tests, and hospitals.
Nina: Why Nana? Are you scared of being pricked for the blood draw? You always make fun of me for being scared of vaccination needles.
Nana: I’m not afraid of being pricked. But they draw so much blood for the various tests, it makes me feel weak and light-headed. I also hate being at hospitals. I worry, that at my age my immune system is weak, and I may catch something from someone there. I hate waiting there to get tested, wondering if they’ll say I have some form of advanced stage cancer. I worry about overworked lab technicians who may confuse samples and get my report wrong. It’s all quite a horrible experience.
Nina: Oh Nana. You are as healthy as a horse. You’ll be fine, and perhaps in a few years, you won’t have to go through this torture anymore or even worry about your health.
Nana: Why? Do you think I’ll be dead?
Nina: Of course not Nana! I just mean you may not need to go to hospitals for your yearly physical exam. You can monitor your overall health form home regularly and without drawing blood.
Nana: What on earth are you talking about?
Nina: A lab on a chip Nana. We could do medical check ups for you regularly together at home. Won’t that be fun?
Nana: No it won’t. I think I’ll brave a hospital. You doing medical tests is about the scariest thing I have ever heard.
Nina: But Nana these tests will be easy to use. Like home pregnancy tests.
Nana: What can they measure and how do they work?
Nina: There is a device called a pulse oximeter that can test your blood oxygenation without drawing a drop of blood. You can even do continuous testing and monitor the levels in real time.
All you have to do is wear a clip on your finger. On one side of the clip, are LED lights of different wavelengths that shine through your finger. On the other side, is a detector that analyses how much of each type of light was absorbed by the blood. It uses this information to monitor hemoglobin. There are also devices that measure glucose levels, hemoglobin levels and fat levels in the body using similar non-invasive techniques.
Nana: That’s nice Nina, but very limited. There are a lot more things I need to get tested for.
Nina: But Nana this is just the beginning and some simple examples. Once chip on the lab is ready, it will be used to detect infectious diseases and for early diagnosis of cancers, simply from saliva samples. All it will do is pass light through the saliva and measure how much of which wavelength was absorbed by the saliva to create a fingerprint of the relative quantities of the various components of the saliva sample and then that information would be a very powerful diagnostic tool for a plethora of diseases.
Nana: Are you serious? All of that from a saliva sample?
Nina: Yes Nana. Saliva contains over 400 types of proteins in addition to other things. Composition of saliva can be used to unearth a lot of secrets about a person’s health.
Nana: Hmm, that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘spit it out’. I mean, I guess you really do spit out a lot of secrets and information. Too bad it won’t happen in my lifetime.
Nina: Of course, it will Nana. You’re already a few thousand years old. What’s another decade to you? It’ll pass in the blink of an eye, like all the previous ones did.
Nana: I thought you said I’d taken the fun out of your old age jokes.
Nina: Nah. I think jokes are the best way to cheer you up. When you are freaked out about something, useful information peppered with a little humor goes a long way to help you regain perspective.
Nana: Peppered is the right word. Your brand of humor sure stings and stinks.
This post is a part of the #NinaAndNana series I co-host with Lavanya Srinivasan. Her posts can be found here.