Diagnostics with a humanitarian touch

By : |March 4, 2010 0

BANGALORE, INDIA: For the vast majority of Indians living in villages, high-tech medical tests are out of their reach. But inexpensive, fast and accurate point-of-care diagnostics that doctors can use anywhere could soon be a reality, thanks to the work of Dhananjay Dendukuri, CEO and co-founder of Bangalore-based Achira Labs.

A PhD in chemical engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dendukuri has developed a novel platform that allows samples of blood, urine, saliva, or other body fluids to be loaded directly on to a plastic microfluidic chip and tested for the presence of multiple analytes in a few minutes. The focus is on immunoassays (protein tests).

“This automated testing platform consists of a fluorescence-based, portable reader and reagent-loaded microfludic chips. The miniaturized assays allow for reduction in the volumes of expensive reagents used and hence their cost,” says Dendukuri.

“The low development cost of the platform coupled with the sensitivity and reliability of expensive tests will enable a large number of people to have access to health-care tests in under-developed parts of India and other countries,” he adds.

“Such an expansion of the ‘reach’ of diagnostics could have enormous long term health-care benefits in these under-served societies and markets,” believes Suri Venkatachalam, founder and CEO, Connexios Life Sciences and cofounder and chairman, Achira Labs.

For changing the paradigm of centralized testing, and democratizing medical diagnostics, Dendukuri has bagged Technology Review India’s “Humanitarian of the Year” title, says Narayanan Suresh, group Editor of Technology Review India.

The award will be formally given to him at EmTech 2010, the conference on Emerging Technologies to be held in Bangalore next week. During the ceremony, Technology Review publisher and editor-in-chef Jason Pontin will also unveil the list of top 20 Indian innovators.

For long, microfluidics has promised to be a solution for point-of-care diagnostics but one of the key challenges that has prevented the widespread entry of microfluidic products into the market is the lack of reliable manufacturing schemes that can transfer the technology from the lab to the market.

Moreover, the development of multiple tests on a chip platform has been held back by the lack of reliable methods to efficiently and rapidly load multiple reagents on the chip.

Dendukuri along with his team has developed a technology to manufacture the microfluidic chips to circumvent the problems of loading reagent for multiplexed assays.

“Dhananjaya has innovated around microfluidics, focusing on lab-on-a-chip (LOC) for point of care in the diagnostics space which was a carry over from his doctoral dissertation at MIT. He has manufactured the LOC such that samples from multiple patients and multiple tests per patient could be done,” says Rajesh Srivathsa, venture capitalist from Ojas Venture Partners who has invested in Dendukuri’s Achira Labs in Bangalore.

“Given that in emerging markets, such as India, this testing is not available (with a reasonable turn around time and at a reasonable cost), it would go a long way in democratization of diagnostics,” he added.

The exciting news is that Dendukuri believes such a manufacturing technology will have wide use beyond medical diagnostic testing in areas including defense, food, and environment testing and in new areas such as tissue engineering.

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