In 1998 the first bioelectronic sensor that could detect pathogens was developed by a team of researchers at Caltech. The sensor used a combination of biological molecules and electronic circuits to detect the presence of E. coli bacteria in the sample. Since then, electronic biosensors have continued to evolve and are now used in a variety of applications, including detecting viruses, monitoring glucose levels, and detecting toxins in food and water.
In Saudi Arabia, researchers at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), in close collaboration with researchers at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center, succeeded in developing and testing the effectiveness of new biosensors, and verifying their ability to rapidly diagnose diseases.
“The secret behind building successful collaboration with doctors lies in spending time with them, and getting to know their needs closely,” Dr. Sahika Inal, assistant professor of bioengineering at KAUST, said, adding that providing doctors with tools helps them improve interaction with patients. It requires a full understanding of the nature of the work of the health system, and the experiences of the human element in it, as Enal believes that “the lack of this knowledge renders the tools of no real value.”
The importance of biosensors
Sensors, in general, are a device that detects changes in a physical quantity such as temperature, humidity, water flow, light intensity, etc. And converts it into a quantity that can be measured or analyzed.
Electronic biosensors are devices that combine biological components, such as enzymes or antibodies, with electronic components. such as electrodes or transistors, to detect and identify specific biological molecules or processes. These sensors work by converting a biological signal, such as the presence of a pathogen or a change in enzyme activity, into an electrical signal that can be measured and analyzed. Bioelectronic sensors have a wide range of applications, including clinical diagnostics, environmental monitoring, and food safety testing, and are often used for their ability to provide rapid, sensitive, and specific detection of biological targets.
And if we talk about the importance that biosensors represent to millions of patients around the world, we include diabetics who benefit from this technology in monitoring their glucose levels more frequently and accurately, and making timely adjustments to their diet, exercise and medications.
Also patients who have implanted medical devices, such as pacemakers and artificial joints. These organs are at risk of infection, which can lead to serious complications and even death. Bioelectronic sensors can detect the presence of bacteria and other pathogens in the vicinity of a device, allowing doctors to diagnose and treat infections before they become severe.
Recent advances in hardware
Recent advances in the design of sensors that use biological components to identify certain disease biomarkers are to improve their sensitivity, specificity, and selectivity. There are several ways to achieve this, including the use of nanomaterials (carbon nanotubes), graphene and gold nanoparticles. Microfluidics, which involves manipulating small volumes of fluids in microchannels, is also used to improve the efficiency and sensitivity of biomarker detection.
Furthermore, advances in synthetic biology have allowed the design and engineering of biological components; such as enzymes and antibodies, while improving specificity and affinity for disease biomarkers. These biological components can be integrated into sensors to improve their selectivity and accuracy in detecting disease biomarkers.
Inal’s research focuses on designing biosensors that can identify disease biomarkers in a single patient sample.
To achieve this goal, Sahika Inal and her team collaborated closely with Chair of the Department of Immunopathology Dr. Ashraf Eldada, Assistant Professor in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases Dr. Fatima Al-Hamlan, and co-workers at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center in Saudi Arabia. The partnership aimed to help develop and testing of bioelectronic sensors, which in turn will help detect pathogens inexpensively, with accuracy and speed.
With some clarification, Inal says, “My goal is to facilitate the task of doctors in diagnosing patients as quickly as possible, by providing a new technology to replace traditional laboratory tests.” And she continues: “We aim to make these sensors available to doctors to provide data that helps diagnose diseases faster. We also hope that the technology will support healthcare professionals in low-income countries and in remote communities that are separated by long distances from healthcare services.”
It is noteworthy that Dr. Sahika Inal had previously collaborated with Professor Stephen Arold, professor of biological sciences at KAUST; To develop electronic chips capable of detecting the “Covid-19” virus in saliva samples, as its chips are close to the sensitivity of traditional PCR tests, and provide results in just 15 minutes.
The fruits of research collaboration
And about the beginning of cooperation with the medical team at King Faisal Specialist Hospital, Inal says: “To investigate the efficacy of this innovative technology, and to find out its suitability in a clinical environment, and to also verify the accuracy of the sensors that we developed, we contacted experts in hospitals in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and in this regard In this regard, researchers from King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Center provided us with samples and evaluated the results using their traditional techniques as a comparator. Then they showed us the results, which enabled us to verify the effectiveness of our technology.”
For his part, Ashraf Eldada says: “Our hospital has an advanced research center. To support the clinical healthcare of our patients through innovative diagnostics and treatment studies.” El-Dada expressed his happiness with the new technology, which has high sensitivity and accuracy in diagnosis, which was developed by KAUST researchers.
It is noteworthy that the cooperation between Enal and Arold’s teams within KAUST and the research team inside the hospital has grown stronger since the experiments conducted on the “Covid-19” sensors, as the research teams work closely to maximize the potential of electronic biosensors.
“Physicians make our research relevant to reality, providing us with missing data from their daily work pattern, as well as telling us what tools they would have liked to have,” Inal says. “So understanding this reality benefits both doctors and patients, because patients’ cases It can be treated at a faster rate, as our devices will allow the health service provider to examine multiple indicators in a short time, allowing them to build a comprehensive and clearer picture of the health status of each patient.”
Inal describes the ability to validate sensor efficacy using carefully collected, high-quality original data as “an invaluable opportunity.”
Eldada pins high hopes on this project, as he looks forward to producing an advanced technology that revolutionizes the diagnosis of pathogens, and changes the landscape of diagnostic tools in the field of infectious diseases, as well as to help ensure better readiness of humanity in dealing with future epidemics.
For her part, Inal hopes that their technology will develop quickly. To provide early and accurate diagnosis of both communicable and non-communicable diseases. It can be said that Inal and Eldada are very excited to see the fruits of this collaboration spread on a larger scale in the future.
Overall, it can be argued that these advances in sensor design may have the potential to revolutionize disease diagnosis and monitoring by enabling rapid, accurate and cost-effective detection of disease biomarkers in a single patient sample.