By Samantha L. Colinco
A US-BASED scientist and Silliman alumna is planning to develop a cellphone app capable of detecting infectious diseases and contamination in food and water. A first of its kind, the said innovation can give results as fast as within an hour and will considerably hasten laboratory procedures that usually takes days and weeks to conduct.
Dr. Evangelyn C. Alocilja, a biosystems engineering professor at Michigan State University (MSU), said that she and her team hope to
develop the cellphone app within the next 10 years and that it will take on from the currently available bio-sensors such as the glucose meter used by diabetics and the wrist watch type pulse monitor used to measure heartbeat.
“The idea is to empower the person. Yes, you still need a doctor, but we want to make something that you can carry with you. That way
you, as the patient, can do something about your case immediately,” she told 150 students and teachers at SC 110 last Sept. 5.
A 1973 BS Chemistry cum laude graduate, Alocilja spoke as part of the Department of Science and Technology’s Balik-Scientist Lecture.
She is also one of this year’s Outstanding Sillimanian Awardees as well as the 2012 MSU Innovator of the Year recipient for her work in biosensor technology. Precaution not diagnosis The biosensor works by reading and interpreting signals sent by electronic waves that are caused by the reaction of specific antibodies towards a sample, which can be food, water, blood, etc.
However, Alocilja explained that the bio-sensor is not for diagnosis of a disease nor is it an “end-all” but rather, it is a “pre screening tool.”
“Immediate information is always valued. You’ll have to confirm the results from the lab and maybe you’re wrong when you find out later but at least we have given that person pre-cautionary measures to avoid potential damage. That’s the purpose of biosensors,” she said.
She added that the app does not detect non-infectious diseases like cancer because they are diseases that “you can live without knowing,
meaning there is no imminent danger.”
Her motivation Described as a Christian missionary, Alocilja said she hopes to use this technology to fight tuberculosis, adding that the Philippines is number nine among countries with the highest tuberculosis death rate worldwide.
“Everything we learn in this life, the Lord already knew. So the thought that I can use this knowledge to potentially save one life makes me
wake up in the morning and come back to the lab the next day,” she said.