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SRM Student Wins the BRIght Futures Prize at Harvard

Sultan Khetani, a postgraduation student of the Department of Biomedical Engineering at SRM Institute of Science and Technology (formerly known as SRM University), won the BRIght Futures Prize 2014 for the research on fighting HIV/AIDS using a low cost flexible microchip. The BRIght Futures Prize is a prestigious award with a cash prize of $100,000 for which more than 200 teams from Harvard and MIT affiliates had competed.

The winning team was selected based on online voting conducted across the world. The team had attracted votes from approximately120 countries worldwide as well as the 50 states of the United States of America.The highest number of votes were acquired from India and the United States of America.

The research work 'Low Cost Hand held Microchip Device for Rapid HIV Detection and Treatment Monitoring Through Viral Load Measurement on Paper' was done as part of the Students Abroad Program (SAP) at Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology. Along with Hadi Shafiee,  PI, Project Supervision and Sultan Khetani, Bioengineer Assay Development, the team involved Daniel R. Kuritzkes and Joseph V. Bonventre, the Clinical Advisors, Timothy J. Henrich, HIV Expert, Manoj Kumar, Nanotechnologist Assay Development, Emily Hanhauser Technician Assay Validation with Patient Samples and Ario Arabi, Business Advisor, Business Plan Writing.

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has caused more than 39 million deaths and it is still taking lives of more than 1.5 million people per year. Expanding access to HIV therapy in developing countries has already averted more than 5.5 million AIDS-related deaths. However, some of the major challenges in expanding such access especially in low- and middle-income countries, is early diagnosis and regular treatment monitoring.

The research work by Hadi Shafiee and Sultan Khetani focuses on a technology that is in form of a low-cost, flexible microchip which enables HIV viral load testing. Monitoring HIV levels in a person’s blood, known as viral load testing, is the most accurate and preferred method to check whether the treatment is working.The majority of HIV viral load testing options available today are expensive, laboratory-based, time-consuming, and complex. Therefore, these tests cannot be used in low- and middle-income countries, and there is currently no commercially available point-of-care HIV viral load device that meets the requirements for these countries.

Through their research, Sultan Khetani and Hadi Shafiee have invented a technology that enables HIV viral load testing using a finger prick of blood placed on a disposable paper with flexible electrodes. The microchips can be made using printing technology that is currently available to anyone, even those in low- and middle- income countries. The test is as simple as glucometers and the cost per microchip is very less. The viral load device can potentially transmit the test results to a central laboratory or physician through cell phone communication. This platform technology is unique with broad applications, and can be adopted to detect multiple infectious diseases such as hepatitis,influenza, and herpes.

A strong team of experts in engineering, microtechnology, nanotechnology, virology, and business were brought together  for this high level interdisciplinary project. This invention can potentially revolutionize HIV management globally as it will facilitate rapid, simple, and inexpensive early diagnosis of HIV infection and treatment failure for millions of people in urgent need.

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