Nanoporous Membranes Enable Concentration and Transport in Fully Wet Paper-Based Assays

Low-cost paper-based assays are emerging as the platform for diagnostics worldwide. Paper does not, however, readily enable advanced functionality required for complex diagnostics, such as analyte concentration and controlled analyte transport. That is, after the initial wetting, no further analyte manipulation is possible. Here, we demonstrate active concentration and transport of analytes in fully wet paper-based assays by leveraging nanoporous material (mean pore diameter ≈ 4 nm) and ion concentration polarization. Two classes of devices are developed, an external stamp-like device with the nanoporous material separate from the paper-based assay, and an in-paper device patterned with the nanoporous material. Experimental results demonstrate up to 40-fold concentration of a fluorescent tracer in fully wet paper, and directional transport of the tracer over centimeters with efficiencies up to 96%. In-paper devices are applied to concentrate protein and colored dye, extending their limits of detection from ∼10 to ∼2 pmol/mL and from ∼40 to ∼10 μM, respectively. This approach is demonstrated in nitrocellulose membrane as well as paper, and the added cost of the nanoporous material is very low at ∼0.015 USD per device. The result is a major advance in analyte concentration and manipulation for the growing field of low-cost paper-based assays.