Distributed Health Lab hopes to bring diagnosis devices to developing world

A high-performance car isn’t designed to function in the Sahara Desert. So, why design medical equipment for developing countries the same way we do for developed ones? It’s a question researchers at the new Distributed Health Laboratory at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) aim to address.

Research Report, Lynne Friedman

In collaboration with the UC San Diego School of Medicine and the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane (UEM) in Mozambique, Calit2’s DH Lab is designing low-cost medical devices, such as microscopes and wireless sensing devices, that can be used by virtually anyone anywhere in the world to prevent and even diagnose illness: For example, a low-cost (less than a dollar) water-quality measurement device that can quantify the amount of toxins, heavy metals, and pollutants in drinking water.

The team plans to deploy the devices in the Gobi Region of Mongolia, which has become increasingly polluted as a result of mining activities in the area.  The concept is to create sensing instruments implemented at the community level, taking advantage of cell phone networks to create a distributed web of sensing.

Eventually, the team hopes to deploy other devices and apps over a wide range of health applications to other parts of the world.

— More information at http://bit.ly/10hcJyr

New hands-on online tool for science education

Computer scientists at the UC San Diego and at St. Petersburg Academic University in Russia, have developed a one-of-a-kind, hands-on online learning tool that weaves together for the first time science and programming education.

While modern biology is inundated with computation, biology students at U.S. universities are taught neither programming nor bioinformatics and as a result are unprepared for the challenges that await them in their own discipline. This tool (called Rosalind) can fill that learning gap.

Instead of listening to a lecture, students are required to complete increasingly difficult problems at their own pace. Researchers say that to their knowledge it’s the only online tool using this method to teach science.

Computer scientists hope to make Rosalind a premier educational resource not only for students lacking access to higher education, but also for universities aiming to update their curricula.  This environment promises to help universities offer online courses to a larger student population by creating a “zero-cost teaching assistant.” Rosalind was named after Rosalind Franklin, a British X-ray crystallographer whose findings were used by Francis Crick and James Watson to formulate their hypothesis that DNA is structured as a double helix.

— More information at http://bit.ly/10xGUAI

A measure of ‘biological’ age

When it comes to biology, our clocks clearly tick differently with some individuals appearing or feeling years younger – or older – than their chronological age.

In a new study, researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine, with colleagues elsewhere, describe markers and a model that quantify how aging occurs at the level of genes and molecules, providing not just a more precise way to determine how old someone is, but also perhaps anticipate or treat ailments and diseases that come with the passage of time.

Heretofore, identifying markers and precisely quantifying the actual rate of aging in individuals has been challenging. In this study, researchers focused on DNA methylation, a fundamental, life-long process in which a methyl group is added or removed from the cytosine molecule in DNA to promote or suppress gene activity and expression. The researchers measured more than 485,000 genome-wide methylation markers in blood samples of 656 persons ranging in age from 19 to 101.

The scientists found that an individual’s “methylome” – the entire set of human methylation markers and changes across a whole genome – predictably varies over time, providing a way to determine a person’s actual biological age from just a blood sample.

— The findings appear in the journal Molecular Cell. News release at http://bit.ly/UgkSRi

Lynne Friedmann is a science writer based in Solana Beach.

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Posted by Staff on Dec 6, 2012. Filed under Health & Science, News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

1 Comment for “Distributed Health Lab hopes to bring diagnosis devices to developing world”

  1. Has there been any progress in the Gobi region?

    I find Ulaanbaatar far more polluted than southern Mongolia where the mines are extremely isolated (they’re a few hours flight from the capital and civilization). I’ve worked both in the city during the heavily polluted winter months and also on the Oyo Tolgoi mine in the Gobi Desert. The pollution in the city is thicker than anywhere I’ve ever been, with nose-bleeds being extremely common. It’s hard to say whether the nose bleeds were from the extreme cold or the thick coal fumes in the air, but the pollution is undeniable and the health risks obvious.

    I posted some photos of the Oyo Tolgoi mine here – http://www.loveperth.com.au/perth-in-pictures/photos-of-oyu-tolgoi-mine-and-ulaanbaatar-mongolia/, as well as some beautiful Mongolian scenery.

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