Grad students are a notoriously impoverished group, and so it’s only fitting that one has invented a pancreatitis test using a dollar’s worth of materials. In less than an hour, Reynolds Wrap, JELL-O, and milk can tell you whether you have pancreatitis, a sudden pancreas inflammation that can cause nausea, fever, shock, and even death.
Invented by biochemistry grad student Brian Zaccheo, this match-box-sized test detects high levels of trypsin, a pancreatic enzyme that’s abundant in pancreatitic patients. The diagnosis involves two simple steps: First, you drip some blood from a patient onto a gelatin and milk-protein layer, which breaks down in the presence of trypsin. Second, you add a drop of sodium hydroxide, or lye, which—if the trypsin has reacted through the entire gelatin layer—dissolves the Reynolds wrap that’s underneath the gelatin; the dissolved foil frees up a connection between a magnesium anode and an iron salt cathode, which creates enough current to light a red LED. “In essence, the device is a battery having a trypsin-selective switch that closes the circuit between the anode and cathode,” Zaccheo writes in a paper published in Analytical Chemistry. The patients know if they have pancreatitis if the LED lights up within an hour.