Student-led invention aims to improve efficiency of TB testing
What began as the biomedical engineering capstone project of three McCormick students has become a potentially life-saving intervention for communities struggling with TB.
First-year graduate student in biomedical engineering Peter Kouassi (McCormick ’22), Isaac Tenga (McCormick ’22) and Shani Katz (McCormick ’22) have has developed a new system to address the lack of rapid, safe and cost-effective TB screening methods in developing countries.
POCAS: TB, the name of the project, stands for Point-of-Care Automated Stainer for Tuberculosis Diagnostics. Built using mostly 3D printed materials, it cost less than $400 to create. Using a method called sputum smear microscopy, the system can test up to 50 mucus samples for tuberculosis bacteria in two hours. By comparison, Kouassi said, a technician performing this “tedious” method manually can only test about four or five samples per hour.
“This is the main problem with diagnosing TB in high-prevalence, low-resource areas,” Kouassi said.
By automating the staining process, POCAS:TB enables clinics to provide more immediate results to patients.
Currently, patients have to travel to and from hospitals to get results, often using public transport, where the disease spreads easily.
“If we can triage these patients on the same day instead of waiting a week or two weeks, the impact is not even calculable,” said Feinberg and McCormick, Professor Mamoudou Maiga, who worked with the team. .
Although several TB identification methods already exist, their complexity, time and high cost make them ill-suited to settings where TB is a significant problem.
And where tuberculosis is a problem, it is mainly in developing countries, where it is more difficult to be identified.
“There are automated dyes. But they are really suitable for high-throughput, high-performance research facilities like in the US and Europe,” Tenga said.
Tenga said these would not be suitable for countries like Mali, where the group is currently continuing to research the project. There, the dyes may not work due to low levels of electrical voltage or contaminated water.
The disconnect between producers of biomedical technology and the communities that actually need it is a major barrier to improving global health, Katz said.
“It costs money to go field test these products in these low-income settings where they are needed,” she said. “Also, there are fewer people there who are able to defend him. (It’s) a combination of the two that causes a lot of projects like this to not progress as they should.
To make sure the tool they built actually works for the communities they’re trying to help, Koussai said, the group had to test it in its intended environment.
In July, Koussai and Maiga traveled to the National School of Engineers in Bamako, Mali, where they worked with biomedical engineering student Mohamed Diallo to conduct a clinical feasibility study.
“There are not many technicians in Mali,” Diallo said. “POCAS: TB is important because we can use it in the countryside…and people don’t have to (come) to Bamako (get tested). »
Diallo said he will come to Northwestern in the coming months to help develop a new and improved POCAS prototype: TB.
POCAS:TB recently won an award sponsored by the National Institutes of Health in the Design by Biomedical Undergraduate Teams Challenge. The group is now scrambling to raise enough money to bring POCAS:TB to commercialization.
“We want this to be our legacy – something that will really be used in the developing world, even in rural areas.” said Maiga.
E-mail: [email protected]
— Northwestern Announces New Economic Center and Global Primary Care Center
— Donation from the Ryan family to create a new fund for life sciences research
— Buffett Institute Unveils Global Northwest Strategic Plan at Faculty Senate Meeting in February