tech lab

By Snethemba Ngcobo

Earlier this year, South African Minister of Science and Technology, Naledi Pandor announced that South Africa is in the process of building a new cleanroom, this facility has cost the government 30 million rand to build. The function of the cleanroom, amongst other things, is to facilitate the production of hand held devises which will be used for disease diagnosis. These devices will be manufactured and tested in the cleanroom. This announcement was made at a press conference, held by Mintek’s Nanotechnology Innovation Centre as part of governments National Nanotechnology Strategy. The minister said the following about the cleanroom. “Its establishment will facilitate collaboration in high end miniature device fabrication and develop expertise in their production in South Africa. “

Cleanrooms are the best places to develop technologies like the hand held devises that require the stabilization of airborne particles to ensure unwanted contaminants as well as controlling variables such as room temperature, humidity, and pressure. The devices are said to be portable and handheld and can detect diseases such as malaria.

Although we’d like this idea to be an original South African one, I’m sad to say it is not. In 2012 the USA came out with the news that they were developing such products. The project is still underway and is being funded collaboratively by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, NASA and The National Institute of Health in the US. The portable hand-helds are said to be capable of detecting a range of diseases using a single drop of blood. These diseases, to name a few, include the common flu, pneumonia, chlamydia and gonorrhea, HIV, Tuberculosis and even Ebola.

What makes these kinds of devices so extraordinary is that their portability means accurate diagnoses can be performed in remote areas and in harsh conditions and results can be given within 30 minutes. This is much improvement on the old system where blood samples would have to be transported to labs kilometers away only to have the patient wait for days before getting properly diagnosed in order to start the appropriate treatment.

The south African version of these portable machines may be just a copy-past of the original, but there is also hope that they might be a tad more advanced , perhaps more accurate, perhaps they will work at faster speeds than their counterparts.