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New Sepsis Detection System for Newborn Babies Using Biosensors

The Neosens project suggests a sepsis detection system for newborn babies in low- and middle-income countries, while MossStandard is coming up with a prototype of an air purifier based on plant moss.

New Sepsis Detection System for Newborn Babies Using Biosensors

Thomas Cañellas Rey de Vinas during his final presentation. Image Credit: 2023 Changemakers

Sepsis is known as a life-threatening condition that has been caused by an over-active immune response, normally after a bacterial infection. It is a significant cause of infant death across the world.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), around 2.9 million children under the age of five died of sepsis in 2017, primarily in low- and middle-income countries.

However, early detection and treatment with antibiotics could significantly enhance a patient’s outlook. At EPFL, a group of students developed an affordable biosensor, known as Neosens, that will enable doctors to diagnose sepsis in just minutes.

Neosens function by detecting interleukin 6, a messenger that has been secreted by newborns’ immune systems in reaction to a host of biological conditions. Also, it is the primary early marker for sepsis.

In 2022, the international SensUs competition for students chose interleukin 6 as its target molecule. Taking part in groups was given six months to come up with a sensor that could quantify interleukin 6 concentrations in a drop of blood for diagnostic purposes.

The EPFL research group—made up of 12 students from a range of disciplines—developed an initial device as part of EPFL’s Make program.

They got to win three awards at the SensUs finals in Eindhoven, such as the Translation Potential award.

Promoted by such outcomes, three of the team members—Karim Zahra, a microengineering student at EPFL, Marco Fumagalli, a life-science engineering student at EPFL, and Mateo Hamel, currently a Master’s student at ETH Zurich—determined to take the development work further.

Sepsis a Neonatology Nightmare

Neosens’ patented technology was made at EPFL’s BioNanoPhotonic Systems Laboratory (BIOS), directed by Hatice Altug. The research group went through numerous iterations to make the device highly trustworthy and decrease its detection time and wrote a machine learning program that could spot the marker nearly without fail.

We got a lot of support right from the beginning from Prof. Altug and Abtin Saateh, one of her Ph.D. students.

Marco Fumagalli, Life-Science Engineering Student, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne

Also, the students received positive feedback from medical industry professionals.

Zahra stated, “We were in touch with Prof. Ashraf Omar, a chief physician at a hospital in Cairo, who thought our idea was a good one. He described sepsis as a neonatology nightmare, confirming that our technology addresses a genuine public-health problem.”

In 2023, the three students were hired for EPFL’s Blaze Startup Accelerator program. In this highly selective program, students receive two to three months of coaching on how to take technology to market and navigate the difficulties of beginning a new business. Around 40% of the student groups that participate in Blaze go on to make a company.

Blaze is intense and requires a large investment from students in terms of time and energy. In return, it gives them the skills they’ll need in the business world. Depending on how much effort they put in, students can receive up to CHF 10,000 in funding, personalized coaching, and access to a network of contacts.

Maurice Gaillard, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne

The Neosens prototype won both the audience award and the jury award at the Blaze awards ceremony in June. Also, three students took part in Start Lausanne this year—a six-month program for Swiss university students—and were awarded first place.

Currently, the group is highly motivated and enthusiastic compared to ever. They utilized the summer break to take their project further, with the belief of soon initiating Neosens on the market. Currently, they are aiming to better comprehend accurately which bacteria activate the response detected by their device.

We know our system can spot interleukin 6 but we want to determine the full spectrum of potential applications,” states Zahra.

A second and more ergonomic prototype must be ready later in 2023.

Plant Moss Helps Purify Indoor Air

Indoor air consists of particles from a host of sources: construction materials, decorative objects, cleaning products, furniture, cosmetics, paint, and more.

Studies have shown that indoor air quality is often at problematic levels and can lead to health issues.

Thomas Cañellas Rey de Vinas, Master Student in Life Sciences, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne

Airing out rooms daily by opening the windows does not always resolve the issue—mechanical ventilation systems are generally required, particularly in buildings that have been well-insulated.

But such systems are rarely installed, even when old buildings are renovated since that wasn’t part of the original architectural design,” stated Cañellas Rey de Vinas.

As a child, Rey de Vinas frequently went walking in the woods and had always been intrigued by the several different shapes, colors, and forms of bryophytes, or plant moss.

It is not astonishing that as a Master’s student, he developed the idea of utilizing such plants’ natural capacity to absorb pollutants by adding them to picture frames and other decorative items.

Earlier, some work has been done in this area, but Rey de Vinas wants to go further by listing the advantages of various moss species and indicating several kinds of natural frames.

Moss is easy to maintain—we could even integrate a watering device directly into our system,” states Rey de Vinas.

Rey de Vinas has signed up for the spring 2023 edition of Changemakers so he could take the first steps regarding business development, and he won first place at the awards ceremony in June. “The guidance I received and classes I took under Changemakers helped me better target my business idea and pitch it effectively,” he says.

The program is run each spring and fall and consists of 12 weeks of workshops and professional coaching to build up students’ entrepreneurial skills. Melis Ataol, the Changemakers program manager, stated, “Our goal is to give students an initial idea of what business creation is all about, provide an opportunity for them to share their experience, and form a community of innovation-minded people with the same values.”

Next up for Rey Cañellas de Vinas is to construct an initial prototype of his natural air purifier to use in his home.

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