February 13, 2012

Winner by a thread

A Johns Hopkins biomedical engineering student recently won top honors at an inaugural international undergraduate research poster competition for his study of a simple and inexpensive diagnostic assay using cotton threads.

Rohit Dasgupta, a senior from Centreville, Va., flew to Saudi Arabia last month to present his concept of threads as a matrix for diagnostic assay systems that could detect certain diseases and monitor a person’s overall health, especially for use in remote regions and low-resource settings.

The hydrophilic thread, treated with reagents, can wick a small blood or urine sample and turn a predetermined color in the presence of ketones, nitrites, proteins and glucose in urine, and alkaline phosphatase in blood—markers that might indicate kidney dysfunction, a urinary tract infection or diabetes.

Dasgupta said there is a need for an assay platform that is inexpensive, rugged and lightweight, and uses a relatively small volume of a sample, such as blood obtained from a single finger prick.

“These [blood and urine tests] are difficult to do in poor regions because they often require a lot of trained people and large laboratories,” he said. “What we were trying to do in this project was find a really low-cost way to run these measurements and get results that can immediately be acted upon.”

He conducted the research in the summer of 2009 and winter intersession 2010 in George Whitesides’ Research Group at Harvard University as part of the National Science Foundation’s Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. The study was published in the May 2010 edition of the Applied Materials & Interfaces journal of the American Chemical Society.

Dasgupta was one of three Johns Hopkins students among the 50 finalists for the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology Undergraduate Poster Competition. The other Johns Hopkins students selected were senior Sarah McElman and junior Daniel Peng.

The competition is part of the King Abdullah University’s Winter Enrichment Program. Posters were invited from undergraduates worldwide in the university’s strategic research areas of energy, water, food and the environment. More than 300 students applied.

The authors of the top 50 submissions, representing nations across the world, were invited to spend one week in mid-January at the King Abdullah campus to present and discuss their work and be judged for the top prizes. The all-expense-paid six-day trip featured a diving excursion in the Red Sea, a tour of the city of Jeddah and several lavish dinners. The top six posters at the competition received awards. Dasgupta and the other first-prize winner received trophies and certificates.

Dasgupta, who is on track to graduate in May, is currently conducting research to develop a point-of-care diagnostic to detect an enzyme deficiency through the Biomedical Engineering Department’s design team program.