Inaugural IDEAS Lecture
Health monitoring today is based on observing symptoms or extracting samples from patients. After samples are taken, these are tested in complex and expensive instruments, usually located in centralized laboratories, by skilled technicians. This system has evolved into an industry of highly specialized and heavily regulated laboratories, but suffers from delays and logistical challenges resulting from the need to transport perishable samples. The problems with our centralized diagnostic infrastructure has recently become apparent, as it was overburdened by the Covid-19 pandemic. We will outline an alternative, decentralized, point of care vision, and describe the technology required for field detection of pathogens by qPCR tests. Ultimately, our goal is to provide continuous patient monitoring for patients with chronic diseases, and immediate test results for patients with infectious diseases. Through a combination of automation and miniaturization, individual health monitoring is within our grasp, and holds the promise of early and even pre-symptomatic detection of both infectious and chronic diseases.
Axel Scherer is the Bernard A. Neches Professor of Electrical Engineering, Medical Engineering, Applied Physics and Physics at Caltech. He received his PhD in 1985, and worked in the Microstructures Research Group at Bellcore on optoelectronic miniaturization. He joined the Electrical Engineering faculty at Caltech in 1993, and established a group that develops micro- and nanofabricated optical, electronic and fluidic devices and integrates these into microsystems. He has co-authored over 350 publications and holds over 120 patents in the fields of optoelectronics, microfluidics, and nanofabrication techniques. Professor Scherer has co-founded several high-technology companies pioneering silicon photonics and medical diagnostics. He helped establish a state of the art cleanroom at Caltech, and pioneered microcavity lasers, such as vertical cavity surface emitting lasers, and integrated photonic systems. His group developed silicon nanophotonics and surface plasmon enhanced light emitters, and has perfected the fabrication and characterization of ultra-small structures with sizes down to 2nm. His group is currently focused on integrating nanoscale vacuum tubes for high frequency electronics, and works on the application of wireless chips with electrochemical and metabolic sensors for the purpose of building injectable health monitors. Over the past 10 years, the goal of this group has been to build inexpensive medical diagnostic tools that can provide immediate feedback for patients in point of care settings. Professor Scherer's group has developed automated instruments for clinical pathology as well as wireless solutions for chronic diseases and metabolic health monitoring.
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