• Eastern Cape Rising Sun

Lab to help save children’s lives

Dr Peter Clayton, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation at Rhodes University; Professor Janice Limson, DSI/NRF South African Research Chair of the Biotechnology Innovation & Engagement and Director of RUBIC; Dr Ronen Fogel, Collaborator at RUBIC; and Mathias Devi, Youth and Innovation Specialist at UNICEF.

Early detection methods of childhood-impacting diseases are generally either unavailable, unreliable or too expensive in developing countries. A partnership between Makhanda’s Rhodes University’s Biotechnology Innovation Centre (RUBIC) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Global Innovation Centre (GIC), will see these challenges being addressed.

RUBIC has developed a suite of proven technological advancements in diagnostics testing that can increase life expectancy and the quality of life for children. The collaboration seizes one of the biggest public health opportunities of our time: the ability to test for, and thus treat, life-threatening diseases such as HIV and malaria soon after the point of infection in communities without means or infrastructure to do so.

This work is essential to ensure the health and wellbeing of children in low-resource communities devoid of affordable or accessible medical services and facilities.

Speaking at the launch of the new Diagnostic lab, Dr Peter Clayton, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation at Rhodes University, said it was a joyous occasion to celebrate the opening of the new labs.

“These diagnostics tests, which literally intend to save thousands of vulnerable children and vulnerable women in the child-bearing context, is something we can be proud of,” said Clayton.

Mathias Devi, a Youth and Innovation Specialist based at UNICEF’s New York headquarters, said that he was excited to see the culmination of the partnership produce biosensors for rapid and accurate diagnostics. He indicated that it was a remarkable achievement to develop products from scratch in such a short time, as RUBIC did.

“It was actually quite a fast turnaround time, from the idea stage to product stage,” he expressed. Devi is excited about the possibility these diagnostic devices could bring to the most vulnerable populations of the world in early detection of diseases, reducing costs for patients and reaching thousands who are in need.

There are a few unique features in the diagnostic tests developed and these include the assessment of CD4-positive blood cell counts in HIV patients, the identification of specific malaria strains, the early detection of pregnancy risk factors, and the development of a mobile phone application that interprets this real-time data for patients and healthcare workers.

“We are currently looking at manufacturing some of these devices, which will enable us to make them useful for all humankind,” said Dr Clayton.

The DSI/NRF South African Research Chair of the Biotechnology Innovation & Engagement and Director of RUBIC, Professor Janice Limson, speaking on behalf of her collaborator on this project, RUBIC’s Dr Ronen Fogel, she said, “It is especially important to recognise Rhodes University, as a lot of focus tends to go to bigger and more centrally-situated universities in developed countries. Great research happens right here and who better to develop these products than us?”

Rhodes University Biotechnology Innovation Centre in Makhanda, South Africa, translates biotechnology-related research into products or processes that have social and economic benefits to society.





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