2 Minutes with Warren Chan
June 3, 2013
Dr. Chan, a 2013 recipient of an NSERC Steacie Fellowship, is now leading the development of nanotechnology-based handheld diagnostic tools. This handheld-sized device would be capable of screening for biological molecules that indicate the presence of pathogens. The tool would be especially beneficial in the developing world and could be used to detect HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C, malaria and syphilis.
So my lab actually works on nano technology for biomedical applications. So we're trying to develop new ways to detect diseases as well as new ways to deliver drugs into disease sites.
In the last 10 years, we've made a significant amount of progress in developing new types of materials that are in the nanometre size, which is about a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a hair. And this technology allows us to design the properties of the materials. So the properties refers to the optical, electrical or magnetic properties of the material by changing its size and shape. So we can make one material to produce a green light, another material to produce a red light and the only thing that we've done is change the size of the material.
We're starting to now develop platforms that allows one to use these materials as a way to simplify and improve the detection of different types of agents, and these agents could include molecules in human, in animals, potentially also in plants and trees as well.
Medical diagnostics or diagnostics or detection, not just medicine, but in biology, organisms and all these things hasn't really evolved to the point where we can communicate very rapidly. So the challenge here now is to integrate the nanotechnology with the cell phone technology try and make something small enough that you can carry it in your pocket but then allows you to detect all these things as it's evolving so you get real time information of diseases, and diseases could be human or non human as it's moving within the world.
And then what we want to do is be able to use the cell phone as a way to image and analyze that information. And so if you can do that, then your cell phone becomes a source for you to diagnose what are the diseases. If you're in a remote area in the world where you don't have any information, you don't have a specialist in that area to tell you what you detected, well, you can make your measurements and you can send them back to a centralized facility, wherever it is in the world, and have a person at the other end to interpret the result and send that information back. So if you need to treat something very immediately, you have that information. We're actually opening up diagnostics to the world.
So one of the first grants I got was the NSERC Discovery Grant, which allowed us to do some basic research. So the first set of grants I got from NSERC allowed me to do those basic studies and it provided me a foundation to build my research around. And then they continued to support me through the years, starting off with building materials, using those materials to build a platform, so that took another four to eight years and now the next two years will be building a prototype that allows us to test these principles. So that's where NSERC has been a great, great help in terms of our research.