Lateral flow test
||This article provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject. (October 2009)|
Lateral flow tests also known as Lateral Flow Immunochromatographic Assays are simple devices intended to detect the presence (or absence) of a target analyte in sample (matrix) without the need for specialized and costly equipment, though many lab based applications exist that are supported by reading equipment. Typically, these tests are used for medical diagnostics either for home testing, point of care testing, or laboratory use. A widely spread and well known application is the home pregnancy test.
The technology is based on a series of capillary beds, such as pieces of porous paper or sintered polymer. Each of these elements has the capacity to transport fluid (e.g., urine) spontaneously. The first element (the sample pad) acts as a sponge and holds an excess of sample fluid. Once soaked, the fluid migrates to the second element (conjugate pad) in which the manufacturer has stored the so-called conjugate, a dried format of bio-active particles (see below) in a salt-sugar matrix that contains everything to guarantee an optimized chemical reaction between the target molecule (e.g., an antigen) and its chemical partner (e.g., antibody) that has been immobilized on the particle's surface. While the sample fluid dissolves the salt-sugar matrix, it also dissolves the particles and in one combined transport action the sample and conjugate mix while flowing through the porous structure. In this way, the analyte binds to the particles while migrating further through the third capillary bed. This material has one or more areas (often called stripes) where a third molecule has been immobilized by the manufacturer. By the time the sample-conjugate mix reaches these strips, analyte has been bound on the particle and the third 'capture' molecule binds the complex. After a while, when more and more fluid has passed the stripes, particles accumulate and the stripe-area changes color. Typically there are at least two stripes: one (the control) that captures any particle and thereby shows that reaction conditions and technology worked fine, the second contains a specific capture molecule and only captures those particles onto which an analyte molecule has been immobilized. After passing these reaction zones the fluid enters the final porous material, the wick, that simply acts as a waste container. Lateral Flow Tests can operate as either competitive or sandwich assays.
In principle, any coloured particle can be used, however latex (blue colour) or nanometer sized particles of gold (red colour) are most commonly used. The gold particles are red in colour due to localised surface plasmon resonance. Fluorescent or magnetic labeled particles can also be used, however these require the use of an electronic reader to assess the test result.
The sample first encounters coloured particles which are labelled with antibodies raised to the target analyte. The test line will also contain antibodies to the same target, although it may bind to a different epitope on the analyte.
The test line will show as a coloured band in positive samples. An example of the sandwich assay is the sandwich ELISA.
The sample first encounters coloured particles which are labelled with the target analyte or an analogue. The test line contains antibodies to the target/its analogue. Unlabeled analyte in the sample will block the binding sites on the antibodies preventing uptake of the coloured particles.
The test line will show as a coloured band in negative samples.
Most tests are intended to operate on a purely qualitative basis. However it is possible to measure the intensity of the test line to determine the quantity of analyte in the sample. Handheld diagnostic devices known as lateral flow readers are used by several companies to provide a fully quantitative assay result. By utilizing unique wavelengths of light for illumination in conjunction with either CMOS or CCD detection technology, a signal rich image can be produced of the actual test lines. Using image processing algorithms specifically designed for a particular test type and medium, line intensities can then be correlated with analyte concentrations. One such handheld lateral flow device platform is made by Detekt Biomedical L.L.C., . Alternative non-optical techniques are also able to report quantitative assays results. One such example is a Magnetic immunoassay (MIA) in the lateral flow test form also allows for getting a quantified result.
While not strictly necessary, most tests will incorporate a second line which contains an antibody that picks up free latex/gold in order to confirm the test has operated correctly.
Speed & Simplicity
Time to obtain the test result is a key driver for these products. Tests can take as little as a few minutes to develop. Generally there is a trade off between time and sensitivity - so more sensitive tests may take longer to develop. The other key advantage of this format of test compared to other immunoassays is the simplicity of the test - typically requiring little or no sample or reagent preparation.
Probably the most well known examples of lateral flow tests are home pregnancy tests. However rapid tests or point of care tests are available for a wide range of applications including: HIV tests, Troponin T test, Malaria tests, Avian Flu tests, drugs of Abuse tests, Fertility tests, Respiratory disease tests etc.
Clinical tests can be applied to urine, saliva, blood, or stool samples. Tests are available for both human and animal diagnostics. Additionally, tests are also available for non clinical applications including testing food and water for contaminants as well as biothreat agents and other environmental contaminants.
This is a highly competitive area and a number of people claim patents in the field, most notably Inverness Medical Innovations who own patents originally filed by Unipath. A group of competitors to Inverness Medical Innvoations are challenging the validity of the patents. A number of other companies also hold patents in this arena.
- Concurrent Engineering for Lateral-Flow Diagnostics (IVDT archive, Nov 99)
- Yetisen A. K. (2013). "Paper-based microfluidic point-of-care diagnostic devices". Lab on a Chip 13 (12): 2210–2251. doi:10.1039/C3LC50169H.
- (Point-of-Care Technologies) Developing rapid mobile POC systems - Part 1: Devices and applications for lateral-flow immunodiagnostics (IVDT archive, Jul 07)
- Paramagnetic-particle detection in lateral-flow assays (IVDT archive, Apr 02)
- Magnetic immunoassays: A new paradigm in POCT (IVDT archive, Jul/Aug 2008)
- U.S. Patent No. 6,485,982
- (News) Grassroots Web group challenging lateral-flow patents (IVDT archive, Nov 00)
Manufacturing technology of Lateral flow assay kits 
Developing highly sensitive, more-reproducible lateral-flow assays Part 1: New approaches to old problems
Developing highly sensitive, more-reproducible lateral-flow assays Part 2: New challenges with new approaches 
Lateral-flow assays: Designing for automation 
Lateral-flow POC tests to grow 
Effects of adhesive migration in lateral-flow assays 
Biochemicals and chemical reagents 
Hi-Flow Plus Membranes for lateral flow 
Diagnostic Membranes for Lateral Flow Assays 
Lateral Flow Diagnostics 
Introduction to Lateral Flow 
Reader for colorimetric or fluorescence lateral flow tests 
Handheld lateral flow strip reader developer 
Lateral Flow assay In Animal Disease Diagnosis