Get it on paper: Delivering low-cost vaccines and tests
Imagine pouring water on a piece of paper the size of a postage stamp and having it transform into a vaccine or a sensor that can detect Ebola, Zika and glucose levels.
Keith Pardee, Canada Research Chair in Synthetic Biology in Human Health, is doing just that by combining synthetic biology with molecular engineering and electronics in order to build freeze-dried, cell-free, paper-based materials that can be programmed to act like cells.
In fact, the Zika test, created in 2016 by Pardee and an international team at the height of the crisis in Brazil, is real and ready to go into production for use in the field.
A small sample of saliva, urine or blood is applied to the activated paper and results take as little as an hour. If the sample contains the RNA of the Zika virus, the test area turns purple.
The vast potential of these cell-free synthetic gene networks means vaccines won’t need to be refrigerated, and testing for diseases can be done on the spot, without the need of a lab. This will bring down costs and improve access to and the speed of health care diagnostics for people in remote locations or developing countries.
Pardee is also developing a novel approach to the study of in-vivo mRNA structure, which plays critical roles in health and the onset of disease. He is drawing on his background in stem cell biology and cellular reprogramming to create nano and micro devices to embed directly into cells. These devices will monitor and manipulate the cells to help develop cancer treatments.