Sultan Khetani, a postgraduate student of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at SRM University, and his Project Instructor Dr.Shafee Hadi of Harvard Medical School have won the BRIght Futures Prize 2014 for their research on fighting HIV/AIDS using a low cost flexible microchip. The BRIght Futures Prize is a prestigious award with a cash prize of $100,000 for which more than 200 teams from Harvard and MIT affiliates had competed.
The winning team was selected based on online voting conducted across the world. The team had attracted votes from approximately120 countries worldwide as well as the 50 states of the United States of America. The highest numbers of votes were acquired from India and the United States of America.
Sultan Khetani, a Semester Abroad Programme (SAP) student at SRM joined the research team at Harvard led by Dr Shafee Hadi, to work on the project ‘Low Cost Hand held Microchip Device for Rapid HIV Detection and Treatment Monitoring through Viral Load Measurement on Paper’ . SAP has been pioneered by SRM University which enables bright young students to spend a semester abroad at leading world class universities, while still pursuing their undergraduate or postgraduate studies.
The device can be compared to a weapon that can potentially revolutionize HIV management globally, as it will facilitate rapid, simple and inexpensive early diagnosis of HIV infection and treatment failure for millions of people in urgent need. The disposable microchip can provide rapid diagnostic results at the point-of-care, reducing the current turnaround viral load test time for results from over a week to under an hour
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has caused more than 39 million deaths and is still taking lives of more than 1.5 million people per year. Expanding access to HIV therapy in developing countries has already averted more than 5.5 million AIDS-related deaths. However, some of the major challenges in expanding such access especially in low- and middle-income countries is early diagnosis and regular treatment monitoring.
The research work by Dr Hadi Shafiee and Mr Sultan Khetani focuses on a technology that is in the form of a low-cost, flexible microchip which enables HIV viral load testing. Monitoring HIV levels in a person’s blood, known as viral load testing, is the most accurate and preferred method to check whether the treatment is working. All that is needed is a finger prick of blood placed on a disposable paper with flexible electrodes.
The microchips can be made using printing technology that is currently available to anyone, even those in low- and middle- income countries. The test is as simple as glucometers and the cost per microchip is low. The viral load device can potentially transmit the test results to a central laboratory or physician through cell phone communication. This platform technology is unique with broad applications, and can be adopted to detect multiple infectious diseases such as hepatitis, influenza, and herpes.
A strong team of experts in engineering, micro technology, nanotechnology, virology, and business were brought together for this high level interdisciplinary project. “This invention can potentially revolutionize HIV management globally as it will facilitate rapid, simple, and inexpensive early diagnosis of HIV infection and treatment failure for millions of people in urgent need”, exclaimed Dr Hadi Shafiee and Mr Sultan Khetani on their invention, going on to thank the many supporters in SRM University and India generally who voted wholeheartedly for the winning team.