Local scientist creates handheld ‘chemistry lab’

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- There is a concept in capitalism called “creative destruction.”

The idea is, as new technologies and techniques are invented, old ones fade way. The car put the buggy maker out of business – but we were all better off for it. And it looks as if a scientist at UNC Greensboro may be doing the same thing to sections of the laboratory business.

Taylor Mabe is a nano-scientist at UNCG who, along with his teammates at the Joint Nanoscience Center in Greensboro, has created a device you can hold in your hand that is, “pretty much replacing an entire chemistry lab.”

For years now, if we took a sample of blood or some other fluid from a person, we’d have to send it off in a refrigerated box to a lab somewhere and it would take several days before the lab separated the serum from the rest of the blood and tested for what’s in the blood. Not anymore.

“So that’s the cool part,” says Mabe, showing us the device. “The surface is just a metal – most of the time, it’s gold – and we can tether any kind of biological molecule on that surface. What biological molecule you stick on that surface determines which disease we can test for. So they could do this right in the doctor’s office.”

Or, more importantly, in the field. If an emergency medical technician comes up on someone in distress, this device will tell them immediately if it’s a peanut allergy, a drug overdose – whatever.

But that’s only half the story.

The other half excited Justin Streuli, who is the director of the North Carolina Entrepreneurship Center at UNCG. It’s a grant that UNCG and North Carolina A&T earned that will allow the schools to take their students' and faculty’s work and see if it is commercially viable.

“You’ve got this hypothesis of, 'I’ve got this business idea, I think people are going to pay for this product,’” says Streuli. “Well, how do you test this hypothesis? Well, you go out there and talk to the customers and ask them, ‘Is this really a problem that’s going to get solved?’ They’ve never had this kind of opportunity at UNCG, NC A&T before. It’s a first for Greensboro.”

And perfect for bringing the work Mabe and his team have done.

“We’re getting very good feedback, we’ve won several awards,” he says.

What this means for all of us is not just a new device that might save our lives, but perhaps a job if and when they can start a company to produce the product. If they do, Mabe wants it to be right here.

“This is where I grew up, I definitely have plans to stay here,” he says. “Hopefully a kid from little, bitty Walnut Cove can have his dream come true.”

See his dream in action in this edition of the Buckley Report.