This article is part of an op-ed series on engineering fields that will change the world by Rutgers School of Engineering faculty.
By Umer Hassan
Real-world innovations – from submarines to self-driving cars – come straight from imaginary worlds of science fiction. Think Star Trek’s handheld tricorder, a medical diagnostic device that made its first appearance in the original TV series. This sci-fi precursor is now changing the face of personalized medicine by taking the tricorder concept to the next level.
Today, diabetics can anticipate a biosensor able to monitor their glucose levels through perspiration. A biosensor implant could detect genetic mutations as they happen, while British researchers are developing a wearable biosensor that will collect data and assess the efficacy of rehabilitation equipment and exercise.
Other biosensors will be able to quickly and inexpensively detect costly and potentially fatal medical conditions such as sepsis and AIDS. Together with Rutgers University colleagues, clinical and industry partners, my lab has been working to solve these global health challenges with new tools that focus on a highly personalized approach to medicine. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, we are also hoping to apply this technology to fight the coronavirus.
Sepsis – the body’s life-threatening response to infection – is not only deadly, it is the most expensive inpatient medical condition in the United States, with patients who develop sepsis often spending days in intensive care units at a cost of $10,000 a day – or more. Recognizing that sepsis is responsible for as many as 6 million largely preventable deaths a year, the World Health Organization has identified the prevention, diagnosis and management of sepsis as a pressing global health priority.
By applying electrical and computer engineering skills to identify new biomarkers and devise machine-learning algorithms, or artificial intelligence systems, we hope to dramatically improve clinicians’ abilities to diagnose, predict – and ultimately manage – sepsis. Simply reacting to diseases is no longer enough – we need to predict them in order to treat patients in a much smarter way.
To this end, we are building an inexpensive medical device that even minimally trained health care providers can use to accurately diagnosis sepsis. This automated device would cost less than $10 a test and be simple to operate not only in resource-limited settings but anywhere where a rapidly confirmed diagnosis of sepsis is needed.
In sub-Saharan Africa, where only one person in eight is even tested for HIV, many of those infected go undetected until they develop severe complications from the disease. In the near future, cheap, disposable biosensors that are as easy and convenient to use as a home pregnancy test, will detect infections with people living with HIV/AIDS in underdeveloped sub-Saharan African nations. A secondary goal is to develop sensors able to monitor a patient’s response to the antiretroviral therapy they receive.
The positive health and economic impact of such sensors would be felt not only in underdeveloped nations, but also in the United States by reducing the cost of a