For anybody who has ever anxiously waited for test results from their doctor, the latest research collaboration between the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and the Indian Institute of Technology Madras (IITM) India on point-of-care diagnostics is an eye-opener.
Professor Anil Prabhakar, from IITM’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering, and Distinguished Professor Dayong Jin and Dr Matthew Arnold from UTS School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences, are investigating innovative ways to aid in the development of platforms for point-of-care systems, and also to design new synthetic materials.
Point-of-care testing offers an almost instant diagnosis of disease or illness. A small portable device is used to collect samples from the patient, delivering results within minutes, saving the need to send off samples to a lab and wait days for a response.
However, point-of-care diagnostics in remote settings is an on-going challenge for developing countries and for many parts of Australia not well connected with urban centres. The collaboration will help familiarise UTS with the challenges faced by developing nations in delivering low-cost but effective healthcare.
The ARC Research Hub for Integrated Device for End-user Analysis at Low-levels (IDEAL), directed by Professor Jin at UTS, is a multimillion-dollar research initiative to develop portable, user-friendly point-of-care testing devices.
“The key to realising this technology is to develop an effective mutual-benefit network of interdisciplinary, international and industry collaborations,” says Professor Jin, “to create an innovative suite of integrated technologies that vastly improve the sensitivity, selectivity, speed and cost-effectiveness of detecting biological and chemical molecules at low levels.”
The collaboration has been broadened by the discovery that some of the ideas Dr Arnold developed for artificially structured “meta-materials” can be explored and adopted by Professor Prabhakar in India.
“With meta-materials, you take a piece of material and you structure it to give it new properties. Generally, researchers have taken the easy route of structuring materials with circular holes. I have been investigating shapes somewhere between a square and a circle, which can improve the performance of these materials,” Dr Arnold says.
Although Dr Arnold focuses on synthetic materials for light-based applications, which could include point-of-care diagnostics, he has also been excited to learn about Professor Prabhakar's work on magnetic meta-materials that could eventually be used in high-speed communications.
Professor Prabhakar says he has trying to do some amount of fabrication of these devices and have Dr Arnold help with the simulations. “That then becomes an additional feature that will really work to our benefit,” Professor Prabhakar says.
Visiting UTS as part of the Key Technology Partnership (KTP) Visiting Fellow Program has appealed to Professor Prabhakar because he can see the value of speaking face-to-face as a quick way to share ideas.
Professor Jin can also see the benefits of this collaboration as a means of bringing together the international community to work collectively on an international problem.
“The best model for collaboration is to encourage either side of the collaborators to reinvent their view all the time because science is a particular language we speak between each other. The benefit due to mutual collaboration in science is really shared knowledge and technology for different applications.
“Our current collaboration involves rethinking approaches to rapid pathogen and biomolecule detection for point-of-care diagnosis of diseases. This is an international problem and should be solved by the team of international collaborators,” Professor Jin says.
Professor Prabhakar says he is excited for the future developments that will follow his visit to UTS.