Azhar Ilyas, New York Institute of Technology – Early Detection of HIV

On New York Institute of Technology Week:  HIV testing needs to go where the laboratory cannot.

Azhar Ilyas, assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering, examines a new handheld method to do just that.

Azhar Ilyas is an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering. Prior to joining New York Institute of Technology, he was a post-doctoral fellow at Texas A&M University in the Department of Biomedical Sciences. He received his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington in 2013. His research experience and interests are in the general areas of biomedical engineering, nanoscience, and nanotechnology, with a particular focus towards their application in disease diagnostics and bone regeneration.

In 2016, Ilyas came to New York Institute of Technology, where he established the Bio-Nanotechnology and Biomaterials (BNB) Laboratory. The research in this lab focuses on two major themes: 1) point-of-care disease diagnostics; and 2) osteoinductive materials for bone-implant systems.

Because most diseases originate at molecular or cellular levels, nanotechnology can provide tools to investigate the presence at a very small scale of potentially fatal diseases like cancer. Ilyas and his students at the BNB Lab conduct research to design and develop novel micro/nanodevices to sense and characterize important biomarkers. Ilyas and his students work with nanofabricated and 3-D printed structural biomaterials to understand the role of biomaterial surface morphology and chemistry in cellular attachment, surface bioactivity, and gene expression. Biomaterial surface morphology also affects cellular functions and in-vivo tissue healing. Ilyas’s hope is to develop new micro/nanodevices that can sense and characterize biological entities, processes, and interactions that can be used for diagnostics and to measure the therapeutic effect. Such devices can have immediate and far-reaching impacts in medicine.

Author of more than 50 peer-reviewed journal and conference papers, Ilyas is a member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS). He has served as a reviewer for government funding agencies and several prestigious journals including Nanoscale, Langmuir, Analyst, Nanoscale Research Letters, ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces, and Biosensors and Bioelectronics. He also serves on the Research & Development Policy Committee for IEEE-USA.

Early Detection of HIV

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Despite advances in treatment, HIV remains one of the world’s most serious health challenges.

Nearly 5,000 people are infected with HIV each day. The majority of these cases come from low-income, resource-poor countries where laboratory infrastructure for conventional testing is in short supply.

Providing easy access to testing is key to reducing HIV prevalence. In fact, the World Health Organization has declared an urgent need for a reliable handheld, point-of-care, and low-cost HIV detection device in resource-scarce regions. Combining biomedical engineering, nanoscience, and nanotechnology, my work aims to develop a device that uses highly sensitive, refrigeration-free microchip technology to detect HIV in health care settings.

Currently, HIV diagnosis requires an expensive machine called a flowcytometer, which also requires a trained technician. Additionally, re-agents used during this process require cold chain transportation and reliable refrigeration, increasing the cost per test. 

There may be an easier, cost-effective way. Because most diseases originate at molecular or cellular levels, nanotechnology can help us investigate the presence of potentially fatal diseases at a very small scale. My research aims to design and develop novel micro and nanodevices to sense and characterize important biomarkers.

With a finger-prick blood sample, optical detection using a low-cost porous silicon-based microchip device could efficiently measure ultra-low concentrations of HIV-related proteins.

Early detection of HIV improves outcomes for patients and reduces risk of transmission. If successful, this research will help advance global efforts to manage HIV and may lead to point-of-care diagnostic devices for other diseases.

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