Mangaluru: You believe it or not, a non-invasive and predictive method of diagnosing pre-symptomatic Protein-Energy Malnutrition (PEM) with paper strips costing only Rs 2 is invented by an 18-year-old Muhammed Suhail from Mangaluru. As it was an unique invention, he has received Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puraskar on January 22, 2018, which is a national child award meant for exceptional achievement.
Muhammed Suhail is a voracious reader, which made him read a lot of books at an early age. Growing up in Srirangapatna in Mandya district, his parents’ huge archive of books came as a big blessing. They gifted him a laptop, due to which he started to gain more knowledge of science and technology.
This award-winning invention was done by him in 2017. A reputed biophysicist and also an assistant professor of bio-engineering at the Stanford University, USA Dr. Manu Prakash's inventions and discoveries and his vision to make science affordable to all inspired Suhail. When Suhail googled on ways of killing diseases, he got information that one in five children in the world is malnourished. He went on to read that while the number of children suffering from malnutrition in India is in lakhs, it affects millions across the globe.
Later, he came to know that an estimated $3 billion is spent on taking measures to fight malnutrition and the WHO aims to eradicate malnutrition globally by 2025. Considering how most children from lower socio-economic backgrounds suffered from malnutrition, the protein test was not affordable to all. Hence Suhail and his project partner Swasthik spent five hours discussing how they could develop a device that would eliminate the use of syringes and the many complicated steps.
After reading research papers and journals, Suhail observed how every child does not have the same level of malnutrition in its body. Therefore based on the protein level, a different kind of diet has to be administered to them. But the Central Government in India recommended the same standard diet for all the children suffering from malnutrition. The test was not only expensive for families below the poverty line but also added to the environmental burden, as the medical waste is not disposed of properly. Hence, Suhail decided to use a paper to conduct these tests.
How does it work?
The process of the test begins with taking the child’s saliva sample on the paper. If the colour of the paper changes, it is an indicator that the child lacks proteins and nutrients. Later, Suhail also developed a mobile app for the process where the paper can be scanned to show the percentage of protein or the level of malnutrition. The method costs Rs 2 and takes merely two minutes. It is a breakthrough in terms of cost and results in zero biomedical waste, according to Suhail.
The test was conducted on patients at the city-based Yenepoya Research centre and found to be successful. Suhail informs that this breakthrough wouldn’t be possible without the support of Dr.Sindu Priya, Dr.Rekha PD, Dr.Sudhakar Prasad and Sonia Joseph from Yenepoya University, Dr.Rohan from Kanachur Institute of Medical Sciences and Dr. Srinivas Hotha from IISER, Pune. Suhail clarifies that he doesn't want to commercialise this tool, but he wants it to be freely available for society so that people can tackle the issue of malnutrition.
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