ISLAMABAD - Scientists have developed a new ten times cheaper ultra-sensitive sensor test to detect the early stages of several cancers and viruses, including HIV, with the naked eye

Researchers from the Imperial College London claim that their visual sensor technology is ten times more sensitive than the current gold standard methods for measuring biomarkers.

These indicate the onset of diseases such as prostate cancer and infection by viruses including HIV. The colour of a liquid changes to give either a positive or negative result.

Researchers say their sensor would benefit countries where sophisticated detection equipment is scarce, enabling cheaper and simpler detection and treatments for patients.

The team tested the effectiveness of the sensor by detecting a biomarker called p24 in blood samples, which indicates HIV infection.

“Unfortunately, the existing gold standard detection methods can be too expensive to be implemented in parts of the world where resources are scarce,” Professor Molly Stevens, from the Departments of Materials and Bioengineering, said.

“Our approach affords for improved sensitivity, does not require sophisticated instrumentation and it is ten times cheaper, which could allow more tests to be performed for better screening of many diseases,” said Stevens.

Researchers also tested samples for the biomarker called Prostate Specific Antigen (PSA), which is an early indicator for Prostate Cancer. The team say the sensor can also be reconfigured for other viruses and diseases where the specific biomarker is known.

The sensor works by analysing serum, derived from blood, in a disposable container. If the result is positive for p24 or PSA, there is a reaction that generates irregular clumps of nanoparticles, which give off a distinctive blue hue in a solution inside the container.

If the results are negative the nanoparticles separate into ball-like shapes, creating a reddish hue. Both reactions can be easily seen by the naked eye.

The team also said that the sensor was so sensitive that it was able to detect minute levels of p24 in samples where patients had low viral loads, which could not be diagnosed using existing tests such as the Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA) test and the gold standard nucleic acid based test.

“We have developed a test that we hope will enable previously undetectable HIV infections and indicators of cancer to be picked up, which would mean people could be treated sooner,” researcher Roberto de la Rica, said in a statement.

Water workouts equally good: Study

Exercising in water is equally good for health as you do on land, says a study. The study found that people who used an immersible ergocycle, basically an exercise bike in a pool, had just about the equivalent workout to using a typical stationary bike. “If you can’t train on land, you can train in the water and have the same benefits in terms of improving aerobic fitness,” said Martin Juneau, director of prevention at the Montreal Heart Institute. He said people might assume that exercising in the water can’t be as valuable as exercising on land. Because of the resistance of the water when you move, it doesn’t seem like you can work as hard. This new study indicates otherwise, according to a statement of Montreal Heart Institute.

Healthy participants did exercise tests on both the land and in water cycling machines (with water up to chest level). They increased their intensity minute by minute until exhaustion. Juneau reported that the maximal oxygen consumption - which tells you whether it was a good workout - was almost the same using both types of cycles.

His colleague Mathieu Gayda, clinical exercise physiologist at the Montreal Heart Institute, said: “Exercise during water immersion may be even more efficient from a cardiorespiratory standpoint.” Another finding, says Juneau, is that the heart rate of the participants was a little lower in the water.

“You pump more blood for each beat, so don’t need as many heart beats, because the pressure of the water on your legs and lower body makes the blood return more effectively to the heart. That’s interesting data that hasn’t been studied thoroughly before,” said Juneau.

These findings were presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress.

Smoking can causes asthma in third generation

The dangers of smoking on users and their children are known but new research demonstrates that it also can causes asthma in their grandchildren.

Asthma is a major public health problem. It is the most common chronic disease of childhood. While there are many factors which contribute to asthma - maternal smoking during pregnancy is a well known, and avoidable, risk.

During pregnancy nicotine can affect a developing foetus’ lungs, predisposing the infant to childhood asthma.  Researchers from Harbor-UCLA Medical Centre, California, tested the effect of nicotine exposure during pregnancy on rats, looking not only at their pups but also at second generation pups.

Exposure inside the uterus resulted in both male and female offspring having reduced lung function consistent with asthma.

It also impaired lung function of their own offspring, even though the first generation rats were not themselves exposed to nicotine once they were born, according to an UCLA statement.

Levels of proteins increased by maternal smoking in the lungs of their offspring such as fibronectin, collagen and nicotinic aceylcholine receptors, were also found to be raised in the grandchildren.