Respiratory tract infections can be relatively mild, viral, and self-limiting in nature, such as the common cold, but they can also be serious, difficult-to-treat, and have a bacterial or fungal pathogenic cause. Whether a lung infection is mild or serious, all are a cause for concern for people living with cystic fibrosis. These patients commonly have lung affectations that cause excessive and thick mucus buildup, providing an ideal medium for pathogens to proliferate, and limiting effective lung clearance and oxygenation. The sooner a CF patient can start treatment — before lung inflammation promotes an increase in fibrosis — the better.
Fortunately, a novel device from a group of engineers at UC Irvine is underway, designed to conveniently detect the presence of a lung infection via a breath analysis. The cost-friendly, disposable device can be hooked up to a smartphone, and utilizes cutting edge nanotechnology. Thanks to a $1.3 million National Science Foundation research grant, the creators will be able to fully develop the device and market it sooner.
Principal investigator Regina Ragan, an assistant professor and materials scientist, devised a non-optical sensor sensitive enough to detect traces of a potential lung infection from a subject’s breath sample. They are also fine-tuning the device to be able to scan the air in the environment for harmful substances or pathogens such as asbestos, silica, or fungi.
Nanotechnology is one of the most difficult and costly methods of creating high-precision devices, but Ragan said the generous support from the NSF along with years of substantial research to serve as bases will go a long way to help them finally bring nanoscale technology out of the laboratory and into large-scale manufacturing and commercial use.
“This grant highlights the strength of our faculty in both nanosciences and advanced manufacturing,” said Gregory Washington, dean of The Henry Samueli School of Engineering. “The Samueli School is poised to move forward as a force in this area.”
Joining Ragan on this groundbreaking project are fellow researchers Filippo Capolino and Ozdal Boyraz, associate professors of electrical engineering and computer science, and Marc Madou, Chancellor’s Professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering.