Engineering Science

New federal investment could save millions of lives

October 11, 2013

Thanks to new federal funding, low-cost, easily accessible technology invented by a Simon Fraser University engineering professor and his graduate students is closer to helping to save millions of infant lives.

The lab-on-a-chip (LOC), designed by Ash Parameswaran and his students, is among 102 global research projects receiving $100,000 each through the federal government’s Stars in Global Health program

This first phase money is intended to foster the implementation of breakthrough, affordable innovations that could transform the way diseases are treated in the developing world, and could even benefit the developed world.

The LOC is a low cost plastic microfluidic device that can quickly do bacterial tests for infantile diarrhea and determine which antibiotic would cure it.

Ultimately, the tiny portable device could be plugged into a cell phone made cheaply available to anyone anywhere, including in remote developing areas with little to no access to doctors.

Given that infantile diarrhea claims the lives of millions of children under the age of five, health providers globally, especially in the developing world, are clamoring for access to this invention.

In some regions, it can take up to a week to get fecal samples of suspected cases of the disease to a medically staffed, centralized facility where a diagnosis can be confirmed and the appropriate antibiotic prescribed. There are up to 10 different antibiotics available to address the disease.

“In the future, potentially, a mother who knows how to operate a cell phone in an area without doctors could follow pictorial instruction on what to with our LOC attachment,” explains Parameswarn.

“She would attach the sensor unit to her cell phone, then dip the sensor in a small quantity of bodily fluid, such as fecal matter, and leave it in there for a certain amount of time.

“Our device would beep or verbally indicate when the test was done and then the mother could simply push a button on the cell phone to upload the results to doctors who may be far away. They would then call the mother back and give her instructions on what antibiotic to administer.”

The new federal funding will enable Parameswaran and his graduate student-research team to integrate their LOC’s biology and electronics into a desk-sized prototype to show potential investors.

Further investment would then enable them to shrink that prototype into the envisioned portable USB key-sized device that could be plugged into a cell phone and made available for less than $5 to anyone globally.

Simon Fraser University is Canada's top-ranked comprehensive university and one of the top 50 universities in the world under 50 years old. With campuses in Vancouver, Burnaby and Surrey, B.C., SFU engages actively with the community in its research and teaching, delivers almost 150 programs to more than 30,000 students, and has more than 120,000 alumni in 130 countries.

Ash Parameswaran (Coquitlam, resident), 778.782.4971,
Terry Collins, 1.416.538.8712, 1.416.878.8712,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,


Story credit/ SFU Public Affairs and Media Relations