The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has developed a diabetes-detecting chip to monitor blood sugar levels by analysing breath.

The breath analyser technology aims to supplement, and eventually replace, the current invasive ‘finger prick’ glucometer for monitoring diabetes in patients.

The breath analyser technology was among some of the technologies displayed at the media briefing held in Pretoria with select female researchers from the CSIR. They briefed the media on some of the health research being undertaken to improve the country’s healthcare system.

Speaking at the media briefing, one of the researchers working on this technology, Valentine Saasa, said finger pricking remains one of the most painful methods of monitoring the diabetes.

“The new solution is non-invasive and hence alleviates pain, as well as opportunistic infections. Many diabetes sufferers would prefer to monitor their sugar levels in a pain-free manner. The new technology is a direct response to these challenges which our citizens face daily. The breath analyser is based on a micro-nano chip composed of nanostructures,” said Saasa.

Stem cell research

Dr Janine Scholefield, a senior researcher in synthetic biology, gave a status update on stem cell research. Dr Scholefield is using induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC) models to study health issues relevant to Africa, such as those caused by HIV, by looking at people with different susceptibility to the virus, including elite controllers. This group of individuals is able to control the viral levels without antiretrovirals; so Dr Scholefield has genetically engineered iPSC-derived blood cells that cannot be infected by HIV.

Through her research, Dr Scholefield is also making genetically engineered liver cells with the aim of designing drugs suited to the African population to avoid adverse drug reactions, which are becoming an increasing issue across the continent.

“Brain cells, liver cells, heart cells and white blood cells are a few of the cells that we can genetically engineer using a skin biopsy. Research that focuses on creating stem cells, one African mutation at time, is important, as a model that works in another continent may not work in Africa,” said Dr Scholefield.

Skin care products

The CSIR is also working on the safety and development of skin care products. According to the CSIR, South Africa is facing a crisis with illegal products that damage consumers’ skin. The research will focus on new product development to ensure safety of the ingredients used in cosmetic products, such as lotions, creams and cleansers.

Product development technician, Vivey Phasha urged consumers to be aware of the ingredients that go into their cosmetic products to ensure the safety and protection of their skin.

“Each cosmetic product must have an ingredients list at the back panel, which then gives information on what has been added to the product. With this information, a consumer will be able to know what goes into their product,” said Phasha.

“Safety, stability, usability and efficacy are some of the most important traits of a good skin product. To ensure this, considerations such as the careful selection of ingredients and clinical testing are a priority in our laboratories,” continued Phasha.

Development of probiotics

Senior researcher, Ghaneshree Moodley, shared her research on the development of probiotics for use in the production of broiler chickens, dusky-cob and abalone. The research will assist the country in the production of natural animal products, free of antibiotics, chemicals and growth stimulants.

“Consumers are demanding naturally produced animal products, free of antibiotics, chemicals and growth stimulants. A key opportunity lies in developing probiotics for the production of both commodity and specialty foods,” said Moodley.

“Unique locally sourced probiotics offer an alternative biological strategy to improve farm productivity by improving digestibility and feed conversion, achieving a higher growth rate, attenuation of disease and improving vigour,” concluded Moodley.

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