The KAUST Insights for National Priorities series highlights some of the impactful collaborations between KAUST and its national partners to help realize the priorities of the Kingdom.
Working with doctors at two Saudi hospitals enables KAUST researchers to trial and validate novel biosensors for rapid disease diagnostics.
“The key to successful collaboration with clinicians is to spend time with them, getting to know exactly what they need,” says Sahika Inal, bioengineer at KAUST. “Creating tools for doctors to use at the point of interaction with patients requires full understanding of healthcare workflows and the expertise of the workforce. If you don’t have this, then the tools are likely to be ignored.”
Inal’s research focuses on the design of sensors that use biological components to recognize certain disease biomarkers in a single sample taken from a patient.
Inal and her team are collaborating closely with Ashraf Dada, Fatima Alhamlan and co-workers at King Faisal Specialist Hospital and Research Centre (KFSH&RC) in Saudi Arabia. The aim of the partnership is to help develop and trial bioelectronic sensors that will aid in cheap, accurate and rapid pathogen detection.
“My aim is to make doctors’ jobs easier and diagnosis as fast as possible by providing a new technology to replace conventional laboratory tests,” says Inal. “Our goal is to make these sensors available to clinicians so that they can get data to diagnose diseases faster. We’re also hoping that the technology will support healthcare professionals in low-income countries and in communities remote to healthcare services.”
“My aim is to make doctors’ jobs easier and diagnosis as fast as possible.”
During the pandemic, Inal joined forces with KAUST’s Stefan Arold to develop electronic chips that can detect the presence of COVID-19 from saliva samples.Their chips are close in sensitivity to conventional PCR tests and provide results in just 15 minutes.
“To investigate this innovative technology for its suitability in a clinical setting and to validate the accuracy of our sensors, we reached out to experts at Saudi Arabian hospitals,” says Inal. Researchers from KFSH&RC provided us with samples and evaluated the results based on their conventional techniques as a comparison tool. They then shared their results with us, enabling us to validate our technology. This is how our collaboration started.”
“Our hospital has an advanced Research Centre to support the clinical health care of our patients with innovative diagnostics and therapeutic studies,” says Dada. “We were delighted with the novelty, sensitivity and accuracy of the diagnostic approach brought to us by KAUST researchers.”
Since their trials for the COVID-19 sensors, the collaboration between Arold, Inal and the hospital teams has gone from strength to strength, with the teams working closely to expand the potential of the bioelectronic sensors.
“The clinicians make our research relevant – they tell us what is really missing in their daily routine, which tools they would have liked to have,” says Inal. “Understanding this then benefits both physicians and patients because conditions can be treated more rapidly. Our devices will allow healthcare providers to screen for multiple markers in a short time, allowing them to build a clearer picture of each patient’s overall health. From our perspective, being able to validate our sensors using high-quality authentic data that we know has been collected with care is invaluable.”
“I hope that our project will result in a cutting-edge technology that revolutionizes the diagnostics of pathogens and changes the landscape of diagnostic tools in the field of infectious diseases,” says Dada. “Such technology should also help ensure that the world is better prepared for future pandemics.”
Inal hopes that their technology will advance rapidly to provide early, accurate detection for both infectious and noninfectious diseases. Both Inal and Dada are excited to see the fruits of this collaboration rolled out more widely in future.