A spoonful of yogurt could soon offer a cheap and simple way to screen for colorectal cancer. MIT Professor Sangeeta Bhatia is working to replace costly and uncomfortable colonoscopies and MRIs with a helping of yogurt followed by a urine test—a cheap method that could improve the early diagnosis of colorectal cancer.
Bhatia is developing synthetic molecules that can be introduced into the body via yogurt, and will interact with cancer in a way that produces telltale biomarkers. These molecules can then be detected easily when passed in urine.
Bhatia previously developed nanoparticles that find their way to tumors, and are then broken into smaller pieces by enzymes produced by the cancer. The broken up particles are small enough to be collected and concentrated by the kidneys, after which they are excreted. The first iteration of the technique involved the use of lab instruments to analyze urine and find the telltale markers. Now Bhatia has developed a paper-based urine test—like the one you’d use for pregnancy. So far this test has been demonstrated in mice for colorectal cancer and liver fibrosis. Read more
Material scientist Viney Dixit and his team at the Hydrogen Energy Center of Banaras Hindu University in India have discovered that carbonized coconut flesh contains secret ingredients that dramatically enhance its ability to store hydrogen.
Hydrogen is a potential renewable fuel because it can easily be generated from water using electrolysis. It also burns cleanly to produce water vapor. The hope is that it could also be distributed using the same global network of liquid fuel transport that moves petrol around the planet. However, one of the main challenges in its wide adoption as a renewable fuel is that hydrogen is difficult to store efficiently as it has a poor energy density by volume compared to petrol. That is why much of the material science research in this area has focused on finding materials that adsorb hydrogen efficiently and then release it again when it is required.
In their research, Viney and his team have shown that coconut outperforms a number of other hydrogen storage materials, particularly in its ability to work over many charging cycles. The team spent some time studying the microstructure of the carbonized coconut flesh to work out why it performs so well. And they have pinpointed two mechanisms. The first is that the carbonized coconut flesh contains a significant amount of potassium chloride, which polarizes the carbon matrix in which it is embedded. This enhances the hydrogen adsorption capacity. The second is that the carbon matrix also contains significant amounts of magnesium, which is known to enhance the dissociation of hydrogen molecules, making them easier to adsorb. That is an interesting result that suggests some promising avenues for future research. Read more
Scientists at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, have developed a handheld device that can diagnose malaria within 30 minutes, from just a little drop of blood.
The team has developed a lab prototype of the low-cost diagnostic instrument that takes a small sample of blood, analyzes individual cells, and detects cells that are infected by malaria.
A team of researchers led by Dr Sai Siva Gorthi, assistant professor at the Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics, IISc, developed and incubated the device at the Robert Bosch Centre for Cyber Physical Systems (RBCCPS) at IISc.
The device, which is small enough to fit into a hand, has a common optical reader into which the user slides the blood sample in a replaceable microfluidic cartridge, each time a new test is to be performed. Cartridges are preloaded for automated processing of the blood samples. The affected blood cells display morphological features that are different from normal cells; just by looking at the cell images on the LCD display, it’s clear if the cell is infected or not. The device uses algorithms that run on a smartphone-like platform for automatic evaluation and therefore does not require a skilled technician for handling the instrument. Qualitative test results can be known instantaneously while quantitative parasitemia levels are assessed and displayed in about 30 minutes.
Malaria, a mosquito-borne disease, is rampant in developing countries. In India, over 13 lakh malaria cases were reported in 2011 of which 754 people died. In rural India, due to lack of primary healthcare, villagers have to travel to the nearest town or city for diagnosis. The diagnostic process — from taking blood samples, to manually analyzing them under a microscope, to preparing a report — usually takes more than a day and makes it challenging for healthcare workers to get back with recommendations for treatment. The new approach, however, combines technologies like image processing, microfluidics and microscopy.
Compared to traditional diagnosis methods, the new device collects significantly lower quantities of blood. It analyzes each and every cell present in this tiny drop of blood and gives a visual representation as well as quantitative count of the malaria affected cells. The portable handheld device can easily be modified and extended for diagnosing other diseases as well. Read more