Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Microfluidic devices, West Nile Virus and revolutionizing traditional practices

Confidence building through science: A glimpse into SRAP research life
The Student Research Apprenticeship Program (SRAP) is a paid summer research program at the University of Wyoming for high school students in tenth through twelfth grade. It is sponsored by Wyoming EPSCoR and funded by the National Science Foundation. This is the ninth of eleven stories about the laboratories where this year’s SRAP students are working.

Javier Pena (front) and graduate student Naoki Yanagusawa work in Dr. Dutta's lab.
Microfluidic devices are used for a variety of purposes in the scientific and medical fields. Some are used to test blood in cancer patients, some are used in labs to filter fluids and some are used for separating particles in chemicals. This summer, Javier Pena working on building a microfluidic device with a very specific purpose: it needs to test blood for West Nile Viral antibodies, be built simply and inexpensively, and produce more accurate results. To do this, Javier is using glass plates, a cell phone camera, and three bioreagents.
 Javier is working in Dr. Debashis Dutta’s lab with graduate student Naoki Yanagisawa. Together they are working on designing a small glass plates with spots that change color when West Nile Viral antibodies are present in a blood sample. A cell phone camera is used to detect changes in color after chemicals are added to the blood. The goal is to make sampling for the antibodies more efficient.
Currently, in order to test for antibodies a blood camp must be set up. This means bringing in medical professionals, asking donors to come to you, and drawing samples of blood that exceed the amount necessary to perform the test. Blood camps are an expensive and timely process, but with microfluidic devices like the one Javier is working on, the process can be simplified. The glass plates cost less than 15 cents, Dr. Dutta says, they require only a drop of blood and they can be sent to the donor. This streamlines the process and makes acquiring samples easier. In his presentation, Javier will propose that these devices can replace traditional instruments and revolutionize the process.
Javier’s presentation will be the final step in his internship. For Dr. Dutta, the presentation and the experience Javier has in his lab are instrumental parts in helping students decide what they want to study in college.  “SRAP is an introduction to what professional science is about,” Dr. Dutta says. “This is an opportunity where students get to work with real scientists who are passionate about their research, they get do real lab work, and they get to make a choice about if this is really what they are interested in or not.”
Dr. Dutta aims to ensure that his SRAP students get a true scientific experience in his lab. To do so, he works to design a project that will both challenge and stimulate the student. This is both the most challenging part and his favorite part of doing SRAP.
“The challenging part for me is to come up with a project that the student can contribute to without a significant background in science or engineering,” Dr. Dutta says. “I really enjoy this part.”
While Javier may not have had a significant scientific background upon beginning his work in Dr. Dutta’s lab, he is definitely leaving with a one. His contribution to the microfluidic device project and his proposal that these devices could replace current instruments are irreplaceable experiences for a young scientist.

By Kali S. McCrackin

Photo courtesy of Dr. Dutta

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