Tuesday, November 14, 2017

NEWS POST: Grads Receive James Dyson Award For Cancer Detection Device

An affordable and effective device for detecting skin cancer has picked up an award of £30,000 ($40,000) from Britain's best-known inventor. This year's James Dyson prize for engineering was given to a group of four Canadian graduates, for their sKan device
What started as a final year engineering class project at McMaster University is now an internationally recognized improved solution for the early detection of melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer.

Michael Takla, Rotimi Fadiya, Prateek Mathur and Shivad Bhavsar, all graduates of McMaster's Electrical and Biomedical Engineering program, have received the prestigious James Dyson Award and US$50K to support the development of The sKan, the team's skin cancer detection device.

The sKan was one of only two Canadian projects that made the shortlist of 20 finalists, selected from over 1,000 entries from 23 countries by a panel of Dyson engineers. Named after the renowned British inventor, designer and force behind Dyson, the home appliance technology company, the James Dyson award celebrates, encourages and inspires the next generation of design engineers.

The sKan assists physicians and the average person in detecting melanoma by creating a thermal map on the region of interest on the skin. The device is made up of 16 temperature-sensitive components called thermistors that look for areas of significant temperature difference on the skin, which may indicate risk of melanoma.

Current diagnosis methods are purely qualitative and based only on visual inspection. The sKan provides quantitative information about skin spots so that physicians can select appropriate patients for a biopsy.

"We came across the issue of skin cancer and how technology hasn't had the same impact on its diagnosis as it has on other fields in medicine,"Mathur said. "We found research that used the thermal properties of cancerous skin tissue as a means of detecting melanoma. However, this was done using expensive lab equipment. We set out to apply the research and invent a way of performing the same assessment using a more cost-effective solution."

The knowledge the team gained from their undergraduate engineering programme, which has since evolved into the new Integrated Biomedical Engineering & Health Sciences (iBiomed) programme, helped them develop and execute their idea.

The gadget picks up on subtle changes in the skin's ability to retain heat, which can indicate the presences of cancerous tissue. When an area of interest on the skin is rapidly cooled, cancerous tissue will regain heat at a faster rate than non-cancerous tissue
"Our education on anatomy and physiology allowed us to understand the physiological concepts discussed in the research papers we used," said Bhavsar. "We were also able to design a large portion of our electrical system based on the knowledge we gained from our Electrical & Computer Engineering courses."

Hubert deBruin, Co-Director, iBiomed, Michael Noseworthy, Director, School of Biomedical Engineering and Raimond Wong, Associate Professor, Department of Oncology worked closely with the team as mentors while working on sKan for their final year engineering capstone project.

"They played a big role in the development of our device," Takla said. "They provided guidance in the design, made us aware of possible sources of error and provides suggestions when we came across challenges. Dr. Noseworthy was also kind to offer us his lab space and equipment for us to complete some preliminary calibration tables."

"I'm elated to see students from our program developing a start-up that can have direct impact on patient health," said Noseworthy. "The Biomedical Engineering faculty at McMaster are always focusing on real life medical problems and how engineering can play a pivotal role in solutions."

Raimond Wong, who is also chair of the Gastrointestinal Oncology Site Group at the Juravinksi Cancer Centre, assisted the team in providing a clinical perspective on the project.

"Engineering students will spend all of their time and effort to work towards finding a solution" said Wong. "They're willing to listen carefully to what the problem is and find all the answers they can get from all sources. It's exciting to work with students like that."

"We're proud of The sKan team for winning this international award," said Ishwar K. Puri, McMaster's Dean of Engineering. "At McMaster Engineering we inspire all of our students to have big ideas through design thinking, innovation and entrepreneurship. We educate them to become engaged citizen scholars who will transform the world and solve those wicked problems our society faces."

A team of four medical and bioengineering undergraduates from McCaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, are behind the non-invasive medical marvel
The next step for the sKan group is to create a new prototype that will bring them to the pre-clinical testing phase.

"Our aspirations have become a reality," said Mathur. "Skin cancers are the most common form of cancer worldwide, and the potential to positively impact the lives of those affected is both humbling and motivating."

Originally published on PHYS.ORG and DAILY MAIL UK

Wednesday, November 08, 2017

NEWS POST: Malaria Breath Test Shows Promise

People with malaria give off a distinctive "breath-print" that could be used as a test for the disease, according to American scientists. They had already tried out a crude prototype breathalyzer in Africa, a tropical medicine conference heard.

The test was reasonably good at detecting cases in children, but needs developing to become a routine device.

One of the odours it sniffs out is identical to a natural smell that attracts insects that spread malaria. Pine trees and conifers emit these terpenes to summon mosquitoes and other pollinating insects, say the researchers, from Washington University in St Louis.

They believe people with malaria who have this odour in their breath may also attract mosquitoes and infect more of the biting insects, which can then spread the disease to other people that they bite. Although the test needs perfecting, it could offer a new cheap and easy way to help diagnose malaria, Prof Audrey Odom John and colleagues say.

Distinct odour
The prototype breath test detects six different odours or volatile organic compounds to spot cases of malaria. The researchers tried it on breath samples from 35 feverish children in Malawi, some with and some without malaria.

It gave an accurate result in 29 of the children, meaning it had a success rate of 83%.

This is still too low for the test to be used routinely, but the researchers hope they can improve its reliability and develop it into an off-the-shelf product. Simple, rapid blood tests for malaria are already available, but they have limits, say the Washington University researchers. Testing blood can be expensive and technically challenging in rural settings.

A non-invasive method of detection that does not require blood samples or technical expertise could be of great benefit.

Prof James Logan from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said: "The rapid detection of asymptomatic malaria is a challenge for malaria control and will be essential as we move towards achieving the goal of malaria elimination. A new diagnostic tool, based on the detection of volatiles associated with malaria infection is exciting."

He said more work was now needed to see if it could be made into a reliable test.

The findings are being presented at this year's annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

Originally published on BBC

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

NEWS POST: How Solar-Powered Suitcases Are Helping Babies In Nepal

Hari Sunar's final antenatal check at Pandavkhani health post in Nepal
Hari Sunar is a 24 year-old mum whose second child is due in a few days. She walked from her home in the remote Nepalese village Pandavkhani for her final antenatal checkup at her local birthing centre through shuddering thunder, a drenching rainstorm and one of the village's frequent power cuts.

These power cuts can last up to two weeks and used to cause the birthing centre significant problems. But now it has its own power solution. The light in the birthing centre stays on and she smiles.

"I am really happy," the young mum says. "Because we have a solar light at the birthing centre."

That light is powered by a bright yellow suitcase bolted to the delivery room wall. This is a solar suitcase. Connected to a solar panel on the roof, the device is a miniature power station that provides light, heat and battery charging and a baby monitor.

Life saving
For local midwife, Hima Shirish, the solar suitcase has been a lifesaver. She was determined find a solar solution for her health centre's energy problems. A charity called One-Heart Worldwide sourced the solar suitcase and installed it in Pandavkhani in 2014. Since then there have been no maternal or baby deaths here.

"Pregnant mothers used to be afraid of the dark when they came to give birth at the health post," Hima says.

"They feared losing their babies. But now the fear is gone and they are relieved that they are going to have a baby using the solar light."

Off-grid solution
Midwife Hima Shirish switches on the solar suitcase to power life-saving medical equipment
The solar suitcase is the brainchild of California-based obstetrician-gynaecologist Dr Laura Stachel of We Care Solar.

While in Nigeria in 2008, she witnessed complications and even deaths when babies were delivered at night without reliable light or power. Dr Stachel devised a suitcase-sized, off-grid, solar electric system with her husband, solar engineer, Hal Aronson.

The prototype was so successful in Nigeria, they decided to bring the innovation to clinics and health stations in other countries with high rates of maternal and new-born baby mortality.

Earthquake challenge
In Nepal, the 2015 earthquake destroyed many of its hospitals and left most of the remaining facilities without reliable power.

Weighing just 16kg (35lbs) solar suitcases were ideal for deployment over tough terrain. They provided life-saving power to makeshift medical and birthing tents in the immediate aftermath of the quake.

But, even without such natural disasters, Nepal is a long way from being able to generate the electricity its people need.

"There are a lot of maternity or small clinics in rural areas where they have no electricity at all." Up to a third of rural areas have no reliable power, says Raj Kumar Thapa, managing director of Solar Solutions Private Limited.

The solar suitcase was the brainchild of obstetrician Dr Laura Stachel, co-founder of We Care Solar
Government schemes to increase small-scale power generation using solar, wind or hydro have had limited success, he says, because it is difficult for private companies to install and maintain systems in remote areas while still making a profit.

"So as long as the users are provided with proper training on the operation of the system I think there is a bigger role to play for solar energy especially on a charitable basis in Nepal."

Before the birthing centre was built in Pandavkhani in 2013, most babies were delivered at home, sometimes by torchlight or in total darkness. In difficult cases, mothers in labour would be taken on a 65km (40-mile) mountainous trek over mud and rocks to the hospital in the nearest town, Baglung.

"Some babies were in the wrong position and we did not have the equipment to help them," Hima recalls. "Mothers used to die from haemorrhaging."

Now Hima and her staff are also able to charge their mobile phones, another vital piece of kit in this remote part of the world.

"Sometimes the power cuts can last for 15 days," Hima explains. "We used to be completely out of contact because we could not charge our mobile phones."

Mrs Sunar is just one of 175 mothers who have already given birth at the centre at least once. As she waits to deliver her second child, she is reassured by her experience during the birth of her daughter.

"When I was in labour with my first child… I arrived at the health post and the light had just been cut. But the health worker said they had a solar suitcase so I didn't need to worry."

Diagram of the Solar Suitcase. (Image courtesy of WCS)
Originally published on BBC