A COAT that can diagnose pneumonia is just one of the inventions that could change the lives of people living on the edge.
Invented by a young Ugandan who was shocked by the misdiagnosis that led to the death of his friend’s grandmother, the smart jacket eliminates most human error and can diagnose pneumonia three to four times faster than a medic.
Engineer Brian Turyabagye, 24, has called it Mamaope (Mother’s Hope) because of the estimated 500,000 children under the age of five who die from pneumonia in sub-Saharan Africa every year.
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In Uganda alone, 27,000 children die from the condition each year, many of them because of misdiagnosis, according to Turyabagye.
“In the villages and remote areas, children get sick – and the first reaction is to treat them for malaria,” he explained. “Most people are aware of malaria, and the signs for malaria and pneumonia are very similar, so it is difficult for health professionals to differentiate.
“One of the processes that most doctors use is a stethoscope to the check the lungs. But pneumonia tends to be on side points around the body, not just in the chest or back. Mamaope’s accuracy of being able to diagnose what is healthy, and what is not, is very encouraging.”
It is hoped the jacket will be ready for use by spring this year.
ANY OTHER INNOVATIONS?
DNA technology is also being used in a bid to improve the lives of many by identifying t-shirts that have been made using forced labour.
New York company, DNA Applied Science, started investigating cotton after discovering that many luxury brands, including ones labelled 100 per cent Egyptian cotton, were, in fact, fake.
“We became interested in cotton about 10 years ago, when we heard that many of the high quality cotton sold for a premium was not what it claimed to be,” said chief executive James Hayward.
The company is now collaborating with the US Department of Agriculture to develop technology that can trace the cotton fibres on an item of clothing back to its source.
Each cotton plant has different DNA and Hayward has already shown that it is possible to identify high quality cotton like Pima or Egyptian from lower quality, cheaper brands.
“We proved back in 2009 that up to 80 per cent of the cotton sold as Pima is not,” said Hayward. “We thought the same was true for Egyptian cotton.”
Cotton is grown in over 100 countries and the supply chain is complex, making it simple for crooked producers to mix cheaper cotton into bales – some of which could have been picked by forced labour.
HOW CAN IT BE IDENTIFIED?
LAST year, Target, the US retailer, had to call back 750,000 pillow cases and sheets from its outlets after it was discovered they had been made with cheap cotton but falsely labelled as Egyptian. The company said an internal investigation showed Welspun India, one of the biggest textile producers on the planet, had used low instead of high quality cotton, although there was no evidence it had been picked using forced labour.
A botanical DNA tag, which acts as a molecular barcode, has now been developed by Hayward’s team. It can be sprayed on the fibre before it is baled so it can be regularly tested as it makes its way along the supply chain.
“We go to the locations and verify whether they are 100 per cent cotton every step of the way,” says Hayward. “It keeps the retailers from being cheated.”
The team is now working to identify the DNA of every species of cotton which would mean that retailers and customers will know if it has come from countries using forced labour.
They have already identified differences between some US varieties and cotton grown in Uzbekistan, one of 13 countries where forced labour is known to be used, according to Hayward.
“A retailer can have unwittingly included cotton that has been harvested with child or adult slaves,” he said. “We will soon be able to check the finished product. We are working our way to the stage of being able to identify the cotton from finished goods.”
WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING?
ANOTHER innovation that could vastly improve the lives of many people around the world is being developed by the University of Glasgow.
Landmines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) kill or maim more than 4000 children and adults every year. Injuries can be devastating but a team at the university is using technology to develop artificially grown “off the shelf” bone replacements.
The £2.8m regenerative medicine project will use a 3D printer to make bone “scaffolds” coated with a growth substance.
They will then be put into the novel NanoKick bioreactor developed by Professors Matthew Dalby of the University of Glasgow and Stuart Reid of the University of the West of Scotland to stimulate bone formation and speed up delivery of lab grown bone to patients.
“In principle, the technology is very flexible and can be used for the needs of all sorts of different patients, including children,” said Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez, the project lead.
“The aim will be to create a bone ready to be delivered in a couple of days anywhere in the world and which can then be used on a human being to minimise the impact of the injury as soon as possible.
“In the future there is the possibility that we could have small 3D printers in place in different countries with basic surgical theatres where the technology could be incorporated,” he said.