Technology Innovations

Posts Tagged ‘Nanotechnology

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

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

A team of scientists and engineers at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.), Bangalore, have created a ‘microneedle’ that take the sting off injections. The new microneedle is one-third of the thickness of conventionally used needles. With a diameter of just 130 microns, these injections can deliver drugs almost painlessly. The innovation can definitely prove to be good for diabetics who need frequent insulin injections.

Unlike the conventional stainless steel needles, these microneedles are made of silicon and are arranged in a set of several needles to deliver drugs of a required quantity. Initially the team had a challenge to resolve as silicon is not always “biocompatible”. It reacts with blood plasma and can corrode with time. Therefore, the researchers decided to coat the needle with fine layers of titanium and gold through electroplating. The coated microneedle are currently at the animal-testing stage and it could be a while before they are tested clinically on humans. Read more in a report by Divya Gandhi.

Mass spectrometers that are as small as a smartphone and require as little as one volt — a 3,000-time reduction in potential — to create an electric field which would turn a sample into ions for identification of composition may soon become a reality.

The feat of shrinking the ion source that requires very little voltage was achieved by a team led by Professor T. Pradeep of the Department of Chemistry, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras. The results were published last week in the Angewandte Chemie International journal.

Conventionally, a solution of the sample is electrosprayed at 3,000 volts to create charged droplets that become ions. The massive reduction in voltage requirement became possible by using carbon nanotube-impregnated paper to act as a substrate on which the sample was deposited. If the conventional method uses very high voltage to create a strong electric field, the sharp protrusions of the carbon nanotubes help in creating the high electric field by using very low voltage.

The researchers are yet to decipher where the samples get charged — along the entire length of the nanotube or just at the tip. It is also not clear why molecules present in the air don’t get ionised and create their own signals (technically called as noise). Read more for a detailed report.

Indian-American scientist Sangeeta Bhatia, professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, has developed a cheap, simple, paper test that can detect cancer, circumventing expensive approaches such as mammograms and colonoscopy.

The diagnostic, which works much like a pregnancy test, could reveal within minutes, based on a urine sample, whether a person has cancer. The new technology will do allow non-communicable diseases to be detected using the same strategy.

The paper test essentially relies on nanoparticles that interact with tumor proteins called proteases, each of which can trigger release of hundreds of biomarkers that are then easily detectable in a patient’s urine.

In 2012, Bhatia and colleagues introduced the concept of a synthetic biomarker technology to amplify signals from tumor proteins that would be hard to detect on their own. These proteins, known as matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), help cancer cells escape their original locations by cutting through proteins of the extracellular matrix, which normally holds cells in place.

The MIT nanoparticles are coated with peptides (short protein fragments) targeted by different MMPs. These particles congregate at tumor sites, where MMPs cleave hundreds of peptides, which accumulate in the kidneys and are excreted in the urine.

When Bhatia and her colleagues invented the new class of synthetic biomarker, they used a highly specialized instrument to do the analysis. However, for the developing world, they created a paper test that could be performed on unprocessed samples in a rural setting, without the need for any specialized equipment. The simple readout could even be transmitted to a remote caregiver by a picture on a mobile phone.

To create the test strips, the researchers first coated nitrocellulose paper with antibodies that can capture the peptides. Once the peptides are captured, they flow along the strip and are exposed to several invisible test lines made of other antibodies specific to different tags attached to the peptides. If one of these lines becomes visible, it means the target peptide is present in the sample. The technology can also easily be modified to detect multiple types of peptides released by different types or stages of disease.

In tests in mice, the researchers were able to accurately identify colon tumors, as well as blood clots. Bhatia says these tests represent the first step toward a diagnostic device that could someday be useful in human patients. Read more in this report by Chidanand Rajghatta.

Twenty-six year old Dr. U. Umadevi from Bodi in Theni district, Tamil Nadu, has recently bagged the prestigious Bharat Siksha Ratan award by the Global Society for Health and Education for her research in drug designs. She has discovered the wonder chemicals known as ‘potentiators’ which can enhance the performance of almost anything from vehicle fuel, cement, rubber, etc. and also reduce emission to a large extent.

According to Umadevi, the potentiators, when mixed with petrol or diesel, enhance the performance of the multipoint fuel ingestion engines by 12 percent. They can also reduce emission by 60 to 90 percent. When mixed with cement, the chemicals increase the strength of the concrete compression by 36 percent, reducing the use of cement by an equal amount.

Similarly, with potentiators the tensile strength of rubber can be enhanced by 42 percent, increasing its durability. When sprayed on cigarettes and then inhaled, the nicotine levels in the cigarettes can be reduced by nearly 90 percent.

Umadevi has discovered six different types of potentiators of which she has patents for four. Read more

A lot of businesses today offer services that require customers to sign up online, and as the customer base grows, managing their billing becomes a tougher task for enterprises.

Now businesses can focus on providing products or services without the hassle of managing their online subscriptions. Chennai-based startup, Chargebee, has developed software tools targeted at small and medium businesses to manage recurring subscription payments. The new software is off-the-shelf plug-and-play billing tool that’s delivered on the cloud. You can connect with ChargeBee via API (application programming interface) if you are technically inclined or use PCI-compliant hosted payment pages to collect payments, and go live in a matter of minutes.

ChargeBee says it provides a robust and flexible billing system to enable enterpises run special promotions as well as to bill accurately and respond faster for billing queries. It also helps collect payments online. Read more in a detailed interview by Srinivas Kulkarni.

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