A research team led by scientists at Hong Kong Baptist University (HKBU) has developed a novel cell sensor with a barcode-like micro-channel structure that enables rapid and low-cost screening of drug-resistant bacteria.
The technology could potentially be used on a large scale in resource-limited situations such as frequent safety screenings of water, food and public facilities, as well as urgent surveys of massive samples during an infectious disease outbreak, particularly in developing countries.
A research paper on the novel invention was published in the international academic journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.
A rapid and low-cost testing approach
Antibiotics are often used to treat bacterial infections, but the overuse and misuse of antibiotics have created the problem of drug resistance. Antimicrobial susceptibility testing (AST) is used to determine which antibiotics can effectively inhibit the growth of a certain type of bacteria effectively.
However, conventional AST methods are too slow, as they require 16 to 24 hours for results, while modern rapid ASTs are expensive and require elaborated laboratory equipment. A rapid and cost-effective strategy is therefore needed to screen bacterial samples onsite, with advanced laboratory testing arranged only for those suspected of containing drug-resistant bacteria.
In response to this need, a research team led by Dr Ren Kangning, Associate Professor of the Department of Chemistry at HKBU designed a fully automatic, microscope-free AST system. It comprises two main parts: a cell culture zone and a “barcode” cell sensor. The cell culture zone consists of a set of micro-channels filled with fluids that contain cell culture media as well as different concentrations of the antibiotic. The “barcode” cell sensor contains an array of “adaptive linear filters” arranged in parallel that resembles a “barcode” structure.
Users can finish the onsite screening within three hours by scanning the “barcode” with a mobile app developed by the researchers, and it will indicate whether any drug-resistant pathogenic bacteria are present in the sample.
Quantity of bacteria represented by bar length
When conducting AST with the system, bacterial samples will be injected into and incubated in the cell culture zone. Bacteria in the test sample inside the micro-channels show different proliferation rates depending on different concentrations of the antibiotic.
After the completion of the culture period, the bacterial cells will flow through the “adaptive linear filters”. The cells will not accumulate around the nanopores on the sidewalls of the micro-channels, instead, they will be driven down by the fluid and be collected from the end of the micro-channels.
The accumulated cells will then form visible vertical bars, the lengths of which are proportional to the quantity of bacteria cells cultured under the different concentrations of the antibiotic.
A cell phone equipped with a macro lens can then be used to photograph the “barcode” created by the AST. The image will be analysed automatically by the mobile app.
Results consistent with conventional AST
After the culture period, if all the “bars” of the cell sensor have similar lengths, it means the tested antibiotic cannot inhibit the growth of the bacteria, and thus the bacterial sample is resistant to the tested antibiotic. If the length of the “bars” is in general inversely proportional to the concentration of the antibiotic in the micro-channels, it shows that the tested antibiotic is generally effective at prohibiting the growth of the bacteria, and thus the bacteria is not drug-resistant. When two adjacent “bars” show a sharp difference in terms of length, it indicates that the antimicrobial effect of the antibiotic leaps when its concentration reaches a particular level.
The research team tested E. coli and S. aureus with the “barcode” cell sensor and the results were consistent with those of the conventional AST. The test can be completed in three hours, which is much faster than the conventional AST. Microfluidic approaches developed by other researchers can also attain comparable speed, but they rely on expensive instruments for analysis in general.
Potential for use in resource-limited regions
The team’s ‘barcode’ testing technology is a promising new tool in the fight against antimicrobial resistance. It is hoped that it will benefit the routine screening of drug-resistant bacteria in the food industry, public areas and healthcare facilities as it does not require advanced clinical facilities or professional testing skills, Dr Ren said.
The “barcode” cell sensor has a low production cost, and it is estimated to be below one US dollar per piece. The research team has filed a patent application for the “barcode” cell sensor. The team plans to develop the technology into a portable AST instrument, and ultimately, hope it is used in resource-limited regions.
Apart from researchers from HKBU’s Department of Chemistry, the research team of the “barcode” cell sensor also included scientists from the Department of Computer Science at HKBU and the School of Medicine at Stanford University.
Two biomedical companies under the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation and a European leader in lung cancer research jointly announced that they will be entering into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), forging international collaborations between local talents and worldwide institutes via connection to corporates’ global network.
The partnership program includes two Science Park-based companies – the first being one of the research centres under the Health@InnoHK cluster funded by the Innovation and Technology Commission, and the other is a biotechnology company under the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation.
The 5-year strategic partnership will study the preclinical efficacy of proprietary anticancer compounds developed by the Lead Principal Investigator and Managing Director of one of the research centres under the Health@InnoHK cluster funded using the second HKSTP company’s breakthrough technologies, including, Onco-PDO™ (Patient-Derived Organoids Chemotherapeutic Test), the biotechnology company’s Humanized Mice Technologies, & Next Generation Sequencing (NGS).
The research conducted will set forth the pathway in an attempt to make advanced cancer a treatable chronic disease and improve patients’ lives. Dr Rafael Rosell, a renowned lung cancer expert based in Spain, will serve as clinical and scientific advisor of the project, collaborating on the study of molecular mechanisms of the anticancer compounds and advising on future clinical trials.
Along with the multilateral research framework, the biotechnology company will contribute, to eligible cancer patients, their Onco-PDO™ Chemosensitivity Test, an in vitro drug screening on patient-specific organoid as a therapeutic tool in personalized treatment, leading to more durable responses with fewer side effects from less responsive treatment. The contribution covers cancer types including lung cancer, breast cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, pancreatic cancer, and cervical cancer.
The Managing Director of the research centres stated that he hopes for the successful growth of the centre that will lay a foundation for the establishment of the National Innovation Centre in Hong Kong, which would become the engine to power “the development of Science and Technology for the benefit of mankind”.
Meanwhile, the European specialist stated that centralising cancer biology research is essential through international collaboration to develop new therapies and optimise treatments, such as those based on chemotherapy. Interdisciplinary, international collaboration could harmonise the understanding of oncogenesis, a determinant factor in augmenting curability and cancer elimination, he added.
The Regional Head of the biotechnology company stated that as an enterprise actively participating in this research project, the firm hopes to fill the gap to transform the wealth of expertise into actionable solutions meeting unsolved medical challenges and strengthen the interaction between the public and private sector, making research more sustainable.
The Commissioner for Innovation and Technology said that the signing of the MoU on the tripartite collaboration between one of the InnoHK research laboratories, the biotech firm and the European specialist signifies an important step in building a partnership between Hong Kong’s InnoHK research laboratories and renowned international collaborators in the field of health-care and life sciences. She added that the government looks forward to the translation of the Laboratory’s R&D deliverables into new solutions and promising treatments in the foreseeable future.
The CEO of HKSTP stated that this high-level collaboration manifests the global potential of Hong Kong’s biomedical R&D ecosystem and realises InnoHK’s vision of building a world-class centre for translational research, while HKSTP will continue to support global talent and tech ventures on life-changing innovation missions to benefit society.
The Chief Minister of the state of Tamil Nadu recently launched an artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled panic button and CCTV surveillance project to make travel safer. The initiative will be implemented in phases, aiming to cover 2,500 buses in Chennai city. Under the first phase, 500 buses in the metro city have installed four panic buttons, an AI-enabled mobile network video recorder (MNVR), and three cameras each.
According to a report by the government’s AI portal, the MNVR will be connected to a cloud-based control centre via a 4G GSM SIM card. In case of inconvenience, discomfort, or threat, passengers will be able to press the panic button and record the incident. At the same time, an alarm will go off at the control centre along with a video recording of the incident on the bus. The operator at the control centre will be able to monitor the situation and facilitate, in real-time, the next course of action, the report said.
The control centre has been linked to the distress response centre of the city police and Greater Chennai Corporation. The state government has noted that 31 bus depots and 35 bus terminuses of the Metropolitan Transport Corporation (MTC) have been brought under surveillance. The project will also help detect missing persons and identify criminals and other works of the GCC, transport department, and the police.
Other states across the country have also deployed technology-enabled solutions to better monitor traffic. In April, the Ministry of Electronics and Information developed and launched indigenous onboard driver assistance and warning system (ODAWS), a bus signal priority system, and a Common Smart IoT Connectiv (CoSMiC) software to improve road safety.
ODAWS uses sensors to monitor driver propensity and vehicle surroundings and send out acoustic and visual alerts. The ODAWS algorithm is used to interpret sensor data and offer real-time notifications to the driver. The bus signal priority system is an operational strategy that modifies normal traffic signal operations to better accommodate in-service public buses at signal-controlled intersections.
CoSMiC is middleware software that provides the standard-based deployment of the Internet of things (IoT), which follows the oneM2M-based global standard. It facilitates users and application service providers in vertical domains to use application-agnostic open standards and interfaces for end-to-end communication with well-defined common service functionalities. The CoSMiC common service layer is used to interface with any vendor-specific standards and to increase interoperability with smart city dashboards.
More recently, the Kerala state government announced it would deploy AI-based cameras on traffic-heavy roads in a bid to reduce accidents by half within the next two years. As OpenGov Asia reported, the government expects traffic rules to be more effectively enforced after the software is put in place, as it automates detecting road violations and issuing fines. Once the system captures the breach of the road rules, the footage will be sent to the central government’s server. The vehicle owner will receive an SMS regarding the fine, and, at the same time, the information will directly be sent to court. This will reduce corruption as it limits local authorities from waiving the penalty.
The City of Philadelphia has announced that PHLConnectED will continue until July 2023 to provide pre-K–12 families with free internet access and has selected grantees to encourage the development of digital skills among pre-K–12 caregivers. PHLConnectED is the city’s initiative to provide free and reliable internet access and is one of the key priorities for sustaining crucial digital equity programmes of the Philadelphia Digital Equity Plan.
The programme in its third year will focus on two key priorities: continuing to connect Philadelphia pre-K–12 families in need to free internet access through Comcast’s Internet Essentials or a T-Mobile hotspot and providing resources for digital skill-building.
To date, PHLConnectED has enabled more than 21,000 internet connections, facilitating educational opportunities and access to valuable information for students and their families. We encourage families and residents in need of internet access to dial 2-1-1 so we can help them overcome the digital divide
– Jim Kenney, Mayor, City of Philadelphia
In its start in the summer of 2020, PHLConnectED prioritised providing free internet connection for students to engage in online learning during the pandemic. The city recognises that internet connection is crucial for students to participate in their education, regardless of their location.
However, having access to devices and the internet is insufficient. People must understand how to use them. Digital literacy is the ability to use digital technology for living, learning, and working. The epidemic underlined the need for caregivers to possess digital skills in order to assist their pupils in school.
The focus of PHLConnectED’s digital skill-building efforts is on pre-K–12 educators in an effort to close the homework gap and strengthen educational assistance for kids. With this in mind, two grants were launched to fund organisations to help caregivers build their digital skills.
The Caregiver Digital Literacy Initiative Grant required organisations to construct a regular schedule of digital skills sessions for any pre-K–12 caregivers or family members to improve their skills to better support their kids.
The School-Based Caregiver Digital Supports Grant provides funds for school-based programmes that assist caregivers in gaining a better understanding of and proficiency with regularly used digital technologies within the school community.
As dependable communicators and easily accessible resources for caregivers, schools and community-based organisations are essential to the work of PHLConnectED in Philadelphia. The city agreed that schools and community organisations can provide people with the digital literacy skills they need to support their children’s education, communicate with schools, and participate actively in their education.
While Philadelphia has been working on digital equity for more than fifteen years, the COVID-19 pandemic necessitated additional resources and a thorough strategic plan. Through working from home, virtual learning, telehealth, and other applications, technology became an integral component of daily life for residents.
In the next five years, the Digital Equity Plan aims to assist Philadelphia to achieve a baseline level of digital equity. Internet access, digital devices, and digital literacy are the three pillars of digital equity.
Philadelphia will continue to promote digital equity as part of its digital equity efforts. Three specific targets that will help the city achieve its objectives are 1) Funding programmes in Philadelphia that promote digital equity, such as PHLConnectED, Digital Navigators, public computing facilities, and digital literacy classes; 2) Engaging with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania regarding Philadelphia’s digital equality needs, particularly in terms of federal funding distribution; and 3) Forming public-private partnerships that encourage businesses and organisations to participate in digital equity and showcasing how bridging the digital divide would benefit the entire city of Philadelphia.
Researchers from the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) have invented a microsize-gap multiple-shot electroporation (M2E) device that has the potential to increase the efficiency with which cancer treatment is offered at a cheaper cost. The researchers came to the conclusion that the instrument would benefit from having transparent electrodes installed in it so that it could better visualise anti-cancer medications.
According to Desmond Loke, an assistant professor at SUTD and the primary investigator of this research, the scientific community wants to create a simple, low-cost cancer treatment system. “The narrow gap between electrodes allows us to achieve a sufficiently strong electric field using a few volts rather than several tens of volts applied in traditional electroporation.”
Assistant Prof. Loke revealed that the device that was built by SUTD did not require any specialised components, expensive materials, or a tedious fabrication process. He stated that this was one of the most important aspects of the device.
The M2E device, which is connected to the development of cancer treatments, was put through its paces by researchers utilising a variety of substances. Because of this new technology, cancer cells can now display a two-hour window in which they are able to take in chemicals.
The time frame offered by conventional electroporation equipment is approximately 400% shorter than what is supplied. In addition to that, it may be utilised more than once. According to the results of the study, the M2E system has the potential to be beneficial in the treatment of COVID-19 when combined with associated drugs.
Electroporation is a technique that involves the application of a very weak electric pulse to cells in order to momentarily create holes in the membranes of such cells. The goal of this technique is to transfer genetic material across cells. The goal of using this method is to facilitate the movement of chemicals into and out of the cells.
This method has the potential to increase the likelihood of drug delivery for the treatment of cancer patients. The chemotherapy and radiation therapies for cancer can be administered through these holes if they are large enough. It is possible that the effectiveness of cancer treatments, as well as patients’ access to those treatments, could be improved through the integration of electroporation into treatment protocols.
This contrasts with how electroporation was traditionally performed, in which several tens of volts were applied. This low voltage, together with the transparent electrode, serves to minimise energy use and facilitate visibility, avoiding dangerous drug use and restricted imaging of drug transport during drug testing, both frequent concerns with conventional electroporation devices. Low voltage also prevents dangerous drug use.
In addition, the permeability of tumour cells can be improved through the utilisation of electroporation in the treatment paradigm of electrochemotherapy to achieve the desired outcomes. Because of this, the cancer cells can more effectively absorb chemotherapy drugs like bleomycin and cisplatin.
After the researchers have finished working on ways to improve the M2E system, they anticipate that it will be a few years before the device finishes the clinical study and is ready for widespread use. The M2E technology has the potential to pave the way for much-enhanced delivery of cancer medicines and a more uniform distribution of cancer treatments to under-resourced and underserved places all over the world.
Vietnam has launched its first official legal entity, the Vietnam Blockchain Union, which specialises in blockchain technology. The union was established under a decision issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs. It was set up to promote the nation’s digital economy, making Vietnam a top global contender in terms of emerging technologies. Blockchain is a form of data storage and transmission technology using encryption. Its transparency in data sharing is the reason countries and the finance, logistics, and retail industries are investing heavily in its application.
A recent report wrote that the Vietnam Blockchain Union will connect with blockchain organisations and communities around the world. It will enable members to share experiences and resources to research, test, apply, deploy and trade blockchain technology. It will also attract investment for the blockchain industry and train and develop digital human resources. According to an official, the Vietnam Blockchain Union will raise community awareness and guide the development of legal corridors, standards, and regulations in the application and creation of products and services on the blockchain technology platform.
Vietnam has been focusing on researching and applying blockchain. The state has supported the development of blockchain technology applications in socio-economic fields, in which pilot priority is given to businesses deploying feasible blockchain projects, which are expected to aid society at large. Currently, blockchain is mainly applied in the financial sector, especially in digital assets and currencies. Countries around the world are forming policies and laws to regulate this technology.
For example, in March, Taiwan’s Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) formalised the designation of business activities surrounding cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrency businesses will be listed under the category of “finance, insurance and real estate” as “virtual currency platforms and trading businesses” rather than under the category of “software design services.” Security Token Offerings (STO), a type of public offering for digital tokens using blockchain or distributed ledger technology, will be listed under the subcategory of securities firms. As such, it will be subject to the same supervision as existing businesses in the securities industry. MOEA made the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) the main authority responsible to oversee cryptocurrency operations. The commission will work with tax and law departments to set up rules to regulate the evolving but volatile cryptocurrency market.
In Singapore, the Monetary Authority (MAS) has created a two-pronged approach to the crypto ecosystem. Firstly, it will bolster digital asset capabilities. The digital asset ecosystem encompasses an entire range of crypto-related services, and MAS is working to enable a conducive environment for these activities to flourish. For instance, it is clarifying tax treatment, promoting talent development, offering innovation grants, and working with the industry to explore the potential of blockchain through real value experiments.
The second part of the approach is to manage risks, including money laundering and terrorism financing. MAS aims to be adaptive, continually evolving, and consultative as the crypto ecosystem is a fast-moving space. It claimed it will issue guidelines before using legislation. It will continue to provide clarity to the industry on its regulatory thinking and concerns, but at the same time, leave the door open for opportunities to co-create solutions with the industry.
Under the Energy Efficiency Fund (E2F), the National Environment Agency of Singapore has increased its grant for Energy Efficient Technologies up to 20% starting last month, the supported maximum was raised from 50% to 70% of qualifying expenditures per project.
This lowers the barrier for industrial enterprises, including SMEs, to adopt energy-efficient solutions that will help them save money on energy and cut their carbon emissions. The E2F grant application and pay-out process were simplified to save time and money for applicants.
The Energy Efficiency Technology Centre (EETC), which provides low-cost energy evaluations for SMEs, will also be developed in collaboration with the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT). These policies will assist manufacturing SMEs in identifying and funding energy efficiency projects, as well as preparing for a low-carbon future.
The E2F was introduced in April 2017 and is administered by the NEA. It helps industrial organisations, including small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs), increase their energy efficiency. The E2F supports a variety of energy efficiency and low-carbon activities, including energy assessments and resource-efficient facility design. Currently, the E2F grant scheme co-funds up to 50% of such projects’ qualifying costs.
The E2F has financed 27 energy-efficient technological initiatives as of January 2022. LED lighting, high-efficiency air-conditioning systems, variable-speed air compressors, and boiler systems are among them. These projects have saved an estimated 1,600 tonnes of carbon each year, which is the equivalent of taking 500 cars off the road.
The amount of money given to projects will depend on how much carbon is saved. Higher financial funding is available for projects that deliver greater carbon reduction. From April 1, 2022, E2F applications accepted by NEA will be eligible for this higher support cap. The sector is encouraged to take advantage of the increased funding and invest in energy-efficient solutions as soon as possible.
NEA is also making it easier for businesses to use the E2F to save time and money. The procedure of measuring and verifying energy savings will be simplified, the same with the grant application and payment processes for conventional retrofit projects involving LED lights or small energy-efficient air conditioners.
Companies just getting started on their energy efficiency journeys should take advantage of the EETC’s affordable energy evaluations, which have been available since 2020 as a collaboration between the NEA and the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT).
The energy assessments will assist businesses in obtaining an accurate view of their present energy profile, allowing them to make informed decisions about the energy efficiency improvements they may make.
Aside from energy assessments, the EETC is also working to grow Singapore’s workforce, including training a pipeline of engineering students in industrial energy efficiency and upskilling existing engineers or energy efficiency practitioners.
As Singapore transitions to a low-carbon economy, NEA will collaborate with SIT to build the next phase of the EETC, which will focus on developing human capacities in energy efficiency. The EETC will be improved by the establishment of a training and simulation centre, which will allow learners to study and practice their craft in a controlled and safe environment while simulating real-world settings.
The grant aims to encourage manufacturers, particularly small and medium-sized businesses, to invest in energy-efficient equipment or technology by co-funding up to 70% of eligible costs, such as external labour, equipment, or technology, as well as professional services.
The award is available to any Singapore-registered owners or operators of existing or planned manufacturing facilities with a group annual sales turnover of less than S$500 million. The project’s implementation facility must be located and operational in Singapore.
The project must include the installation and usage of energy-efficient equipment or technology at an industrial facility with a documented track record of energy savings. The project must result in energy savings that can be measured and verified.
Researchers at the Hong Kong Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (HKCeND), founded by The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), have made promising breakthroughs in the early diagnosis and therapeutic treatment of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) that have the potential to transform disease management.
The team has established advanced biomarker discovery platforms, identified new blood-based biomarkers, and created an innovative artificial intelligence-based scoring system that enables risk prediction, early detection, and classification of AD. Furthermore, the team has successfully developed a gene therapy strategy as a novel therapeutic treatment for AD.
Established in 2020 with initial funding of HK$ 500 million from the Hong Kong government’s InnoHK Clusters initiative, HKCeND aims to be the world’s leading research centre focused on neurodegenerative diseases. A multi-disciplinary team of prominent scientists are engaged in cutting-edge research aimed at developing novel biomarkers and identifying therapeutic targets and systemic factors to treat neurodegenerative diseases.
AD, the most common form of dementia, is a devastating and incurable neurodegenerative disease that affects more than 50 million people globally. Treating AD remains a significant challenge since there are no objective diagnostic methods and patients are only diagnosed when the disease is at an advanced stage. Given that disease onset is at least 10 -20 years before the appearance of symptoms, early diagnosis of AD is the key to effective treatment.
The early detection of AD, when it manifests as mild cognitive impairment or early dementia, would enable timely management/therapeutic intervention resulting in improved outcomes. Biomarkers associated with the early stages of AD have been found to have important applications in early diagnosis.
HKCeND researchers have extensive expertise in biomarker research. Previous achievements include conducting the first whole-genome sequencing study of AD in the Chinese population and establishing the first comprehensive Chinese AD genetic database, resulting in the identification of AD genetic risk factors. These accomplishments have led to the development and establishment of novel and robust biomarker platforms at the HKCeND.
Furthermore, by leveraging their genetic studies on Chinese AD patients and utilizing AI tools, the team has developed the first deep learning-based polygenic risk scoring system that enables the objective assessment of AD risk.
The team has also identified blood-based protein biomarkers and is developing a customized panel of AD blood protein biomarkers that can accurately classify patients with AD and evaluate disease status from a single drop of blood. This technology can be applied towards developing a clinical tool to efficiently and effectively diagnose AD at an early stage and for disease stratification.
Given the clinical value of such tests, the team is actively pursuing commercialization opportunities with strategic industry partners.
Concurrent to their biomarker research, the HKCeND team is also focusing on developing new therapeutic approaches for AD, in particular, gene therapy. Gene therapy has not been considered a promising therapeutic approach for brain diseases such as AD due to the lack of an effective and non-invasive delivery tool capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier.
Recently, the team generated the first engineered delivery vehicle and demonstrated its ability to not only effectively cross the blood-brain barrier but also deliver a genome-editing tool to the entire brain through a single non-invasive intravenous administration. Using this system, the team successfully disrupted AD-associated mutations and alleviated AD pathologies in the entire brain of AD mouse models. This work is an important milestone in the development of new disease-modifying therapies.
The team is confident that the Center will play a leading role in advancing research in neurodegenerative diseases, from talent development to conducting world-class research, to accelerate the development of precision diagnosis and medicine that will benefit millions of people globally.
The research work of the Center is led by eminent scientists and brings together more than 60 researchers from all over the world. The Center is looking for research talent to join the fast-growing team and is committed to nurturing a new generation of innovation and technology (I&T) talent.