August 18, 2019 | 83° F

Rutgers professor combats AIDS with development of efficient sensors

Photo by Wikimedia |

Umer Hassan, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Chemical Engineering, has developed a biosensor that is embedded with a chip that detects and quantifies the number of CD4 cells affected by the HIV virus.

Umer Hassan, an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and core researcher for the Rutgers Global Health Institute, has developed a biosensor for AIDS diagnosis and management.

Hassan, whose team develops point-of-care biosensors for a myriad of global health issues, aims for his biosensors to be disposable, handheld and economical devices which are able to deliver quick results.

Presently, an HIV/AIDS diagnosis requires hundreds of dollars, expensive machinery and trained technicians. Hassan said his biosensor requires just one drop of blood and can display results in less than 30 minutes. He hopes that once the biosensor is commercialized, it will cost less than $10.

Each biosensor is embedded with a chip that detects and quantifies the number of CD64 cells, or cells that aid the body’s immune system, that have been affected by the HIV virus, he said. This allows the biosensor to be useful for AIDS management in addition to AIDS diagnosis, since physicians can monitor their patients’ CD64 cell levels before and during treatment.

As a global health researcher, Hassan was inspired to address the issues of HIV and AIDS in an effort to improve global healthcare equity. He hopes the biosensor can lower the cost and shorten the time of diagnosis in the United States as well as other regions.

“There are 35 million people who are living with HIV,” he said. “70 percent of these people live in Sub-Saharan Africa. There’s a very large need for inexpensive biosensors there.”

Hassan’s team, along with researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has co-founded a startup to commercialize the production of his biosensors. He said they have received grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in order to produce a commercial prototype of the biosensor.

In addition to researching HIV/AIDS, Hassan said his team is addressing sepsis diagnostics.

Sepsis, according to the Mayo Clinic, is when the body cannot properly fight off a blood infection that has the ability to damage organs and may lead to death.

“Even in the United States, more than a million cases (of sepsis) occur, and of those cases 250,000 people die each year,” he said. “That’s greater than the number of people dying of HIV/AIDS, prostate cancer and breast cancer combined.”

Hassan was interested in the idea of automation from a young age. As a child, he wrote computer programs to solve his math homework for him. Later, he explored his interest in biomedical sciences through applying his engineering background to global health problems. 

In the future, Hassan hopes to continue developing point-of-care devices that promote global health equity. He credits the Rutgers Global Health Institute and the School of Engineering for helping him push the boundaries of science.

“Rutgers Global Health Institute particularly targets global health issues that have an impact all over the world,” he said. “Rutgers is a good place to be in order to make such biosensors.”

Meha Aggarwal

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