By Thanasis Gavos – London
One of the most exciting recent scientific developments aiming at upgrading medical diagnoses has been announced in Southampton, England. The man and most of his team behind the breakthrough are Greek.
Dr Themis Prodromakis, Reader in Nanoelectronics and EPSRC Fellow at the University of Southampton, presented plans to develop a low-cost, disposable, point-of-care diagnostic device that could reduce treatment times and the cost of diagnosis.
The new device, which has been likened to the Tricorder hand-held scanner featured in the Star Trek sci-fi series, will basically consist of a microchip that can be attached to electronic gadgets such as the iPhone allowing the direct and quick examination of blood samples and the diagnosis of various types of diseases, from cancer and HIV to tuberculosis. The whole research involves hybrid technology using electronic components as chemical sensors on printed circuit boards (PCBs).
The 33-year old Dr Prodromakis is one of the youngest Readers in British universities. As he said, “this new diagnostic tool will make a tangible difference to healthcare not only in the UK but in countries around the world, especially the Third World ones.” The new method will be much less time consuming, less interventional, cheaper and will provide continuous monitoring in comparison with the conventional diagnostic method. Each PBC is expected to cost around £50, whereas now each examination costs about ten times more.
This specific project is three years long and is conducted in collaboration with researchers in the Department of Infection and Immunity at Imperial College Healthcare NHS, who will carry out all clinical trials and Newbury Electronics, a leading manufacturer of PCBs in the UK. The research is being funded by a £1 million grant, awarded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
Dr Prodromakis’ team is also conducting a number of parallel researches, mainly based on memristors, structures able to concentrate memory. Their potential applications extend from computers to biology.
Out of 15 researchers currently in his team, six are Greek. “They have gone through an exhausting selection process and they have proved they are as good as anyone,” says Dr Prodromakis. Most of them have the experience of a Greek academic environment. “Our professors in Greece are real teachers; they know and love what they are doing. But they fight on their own. There is no comparison with Greece in how organised and ‘easy’ things are here in Southampton for a researcher,” Despina Moschou, one of the team’s members told IBNA.
Her colleague Dimitris Kotziabasis echoed a number of young Greek scientists and professionals. “I’m clearly a child of the crisis. I would leave Greece at some point and I decided to leave after my PhD. I knew that this would be the right step for my career. Wages, funding, facilities, options are often non-existent in Greece. I know many people my age, 35, who have left our home country in the last few years, people very well educated. They are a different kind of migrants whose potential unfortunately cannot get fulfilled in Greece.”
So what would he change in Greece’s academic research environment? “Meritocracy, organisation, funding. I would only keep the researchers, they are high quality,” he said disarmingly.