Posted February 16th, 2016 by Tyler Irving

Desktop diagnosis: Professors Ted Sargent and Shana Kelley receive Brockhouse Canada Prize

U of T Professors Professor Ted Sargent and Shana Kelley are co-recipients of this year’s Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering. (Photo: NSERC)

University Professor Ted Sargent (ECE) of U of T’s Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and Professor Shana Kelley of U of T’s Faculties of Pharmacy and Medicine are co-recipients of this year’s Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering.

The award recognizes an 11-year research partnership that has led to a faster, more cost-effective way to diagnose infectious diseases.

Today, many diagnoses can only be confirmed by taking a sample from a patient and sending it off to a specially-equipped lab to perform DNA analysis. These tests are costly, and it can take days or weeks to receive the results, which compromises patient care.

Kelley and Sargent have worked together to design a toaster-sized device that can provide the same information in about 20 minutes. It is designed to be simple enough to be used by doctors and nurses on the front lines of patient care without any specialized lab training.

The technology is based on chemical sensors that bind to specific DNA sequences present in bacteria, viruses or other disease-causing organisms. When they bind, the sensors give off an electrochemical signal that is easily detected by the device. The project leverages Kelley’s expertise in electrochemistry and biochemistry and Sargent’s experience in engineering physics, electrical engineering and nanomaterials.

“This novel technology illustrates the tremendous advances that can be made through cross-disciplinary collaboration which will benefit patients in Canada and around the world,” said Cristina Amon, Dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering. “ I extend my warmest congratulations to Professors Sargent and Kelley on this richly-deserved honour.”

The annual award was presented today at Rideau Hall in Ottawa. It is named for Bertram N. Brockhouse, who shared the 1994 Nobel Prize in Physics for his “pioneering development of neutron scattering techniques for studies of condensed matter.” It recognizes outstanding Canadian teams of researchers from different disciplines who have combined their expertise to produce achievements of outstanding international significance. The award comes with a team research grant of up to $250,000.