Kharagpur (West Bengal): In partnership with the University of California–Irvine in the US, the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (IIT-Kgp), has developed a rapid diagnostic test (RDT) device that will bring down to Rs 20 the cost of blood tests to detect diseases such as malaria, dengue and tuberculosis.
Though not considered a gold standard by doctors, RDT devices generate immediate results and do not need skilled operators. They are popular in areas where healthcare facilities are limited.
Going forward, the one developed at Kharagpur could be adapted to conduct more complex tests to detect even HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), said researchers at the institute.
The device has delivered 100% accurate results at laboratories in the institute, said Suman Chakraborty, professor at IIT-Kgp’s mechanical engineering department, who is leading the research.
Clinical trials are to be begin within a month in partnership with JSV Innovations Pvt. Ltd, a firm co-promoted by Dr Satadal Saha—a Kolkata-based general surgeon.
Codenamed “Laboratory on CD”, Chakraborty started his research on this RDT device in 2005 in “active collaboration” with prof. Marc Madou’s BioMEMS (biological micro-electrical mechanical systems) laboratory at University of California–Irvine.
The BioMEMS laboratory’s website says it “applies miniaturization science to solve chemical and biological problems with an emphasis on molecular biology and energy”. It is partnering at least three IITs in research—Kanpur, Kharagpur and Hyderabad.
The Indo-US Science and Technology Forum, an autonomous society founded in March 2000 jointly by the US and Indian governments also facilitated the research, according to Chakraborty.
He and his team have developed a microfluidic compact disc (CD), which when rotated with a simple motor, delivers blood samples into separate chambers filled with different reagents through microchannels embedded in the CD. Results are derived from the sample’s reaction with the reagents.
Besides trained technicians, conventional tests require more reagents than this RDT device, making them more expensive, according to Chakraborty.
“This device could be a game changer considering the condition of healthcare facilities in India,” said JSV Innovations’s Saha, who along with two other doctors have built three hospitals in West Bengal targeted at people in rural and semi-urban areas. “Many people die in remote villages because of delay in detecting killer diseases. This device, being portable and easy to operate, could do wonders,” Saha added. To be sure, there are at least 20 RDTs available across the world to detect malaria, according to a 2008 World Health Organization estimate. RDT devices are available for dengue and tuberculosis as well.
Over the next few months, clinical trials of IIT-Kgp’s RDT device will be conducted with excess samples drawn from medical camps in Kolkata and West Midnapore district, according to Saha.
On conclusion of the clinical trials, IIT-Kgp, Madou’s BioMEMS laboratory and JSV Innovations will jointly seek patents for the device, according to Chakraborty.
Saha, who is likely to have a key role in commercial exploitation of the device, said he is opposed to the involvement of a large pharmaceutical firm in distributing it. Such an arrangement could undermine the key objective of the research, which is affordability, according to him.