A device slightly larger than a home phone looks likely to transform medical diagnosis in rural India. Using “smart matter,” or MEMS technology, this diagnostic tool, which was developed at Deakin, was one of the topics discussed at two cutting edge workshops at Deakin’s Waurn Ponds Campus recently.
Around 25 top scientists from India joined Australian scientists at the workshops that addressed global issues in agriculture and health. Discussion focussed on new technologies that can enhance sustainable agriculture, through nanobiotechnology, and improve healthcare, through Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS).
The workshops were officially opened by the Federal Member for Corangamite, Ms Sarah Henderson MP.
During the workshops, participants also worked together to develop joint research projects that seek solutions of common interest to Australia and India.
From left: Prof Andrew Parratt, Prof Lee Astheimer, Ravneet Pawha, Sarah Henderson MP, Dr Alok Adholeya and Prof Peter Hodgson.
With their visit supported by the Australia India Strategic Research Foundation, the Indian scientists represented a number of Indian universities and research institutes, including the University of Mumbai, Shankara Nethralaya Vision Research Foundation in Chennai, and The Energy Resources Institute (TERI).
The workshops coincided with the recent announcement of the expansion of the TERI-Deakin Nanobiotechnology Research Centre that will see a $10 million state-of-the-art facility built in India, and several new MOUs with Indian institutions, including the Shankara Nethralaya Vision Research Foundation.
The “Collaborative Workshop on Microelectromechanical Systems (MEMS) and their Applications in Health Care” focussed on the newly-developed, low cost, point-of-care diagnostic devices, which have particular potential for the Indian market.
Deakin’s Professor of Micro and Nano Systems, Professor Lingxue Kong, from the Institute for Frontier Materials, said that this research is at the “forefront of its field” and can test for a range of diseases such as the SARS and Avian viruses, or breast cancer.
“This technology has the potential to transform molecular diagnostic technology,” Professor Kong said.
“Not only does it substantially reduce testing time, but it can be done by general staff, which is ideal for rural India.”
The technology will be used initially to test more than 16 infectious diseases related to ocular infections, such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, by researchers at the Shankara Nethralaya Vision Research Foundation.
Professor Kong added that MEMS has a huge range of potential applications. Combining computers with miniscule mechanical devices, such as sensors, valves and gears, which are embedded in semiconductor chips, its potential applications extend to uses as varied as aeroplane wings that reshape themselves when they encounter turbulence, to packages that “talk back” to their couriers.
The Deakin-TERI workshop on “Nanobiotechnology Applications to Improve Plant Productivity and Ecosystems Services” explored the use of nanomolecules to improve plant productivity, in areas such as delivering agrochemicals and improving biofuels, as well as bioremediation, food security and genetic methods for improving drought tolerance and quality of plant products.
Conference organiser, Professor John Hamill, from Deakin’s new Centre for Regional and Rural Futures (CeRRF), said that the workshop demonstrated the tremendous advances in science currently taking place in DNA/genetics-based technology and nanotechnology.
“With climate change likely to increase challenges around the world, it is very important that we pool resources to find ways to create sustainable agriculture - and that we involve students and trainees, who will be the next generation of research leaders,” Professor Hamill said.