Turkish scientists are helping COVID-19 patients recover and finding new ways to prevent the virus' spread with a wide range of research and development programs at a university lab.
In exclusive interviews with Anadolu Agency (AA), the team at Bilkent University Institute of Materials Science and Nanotechnology (UNAM) in the capital Ankara described some of the fruits of their research, which include a rapid diagnosis kit for patients suspected of contracting COVID-19.
The kit is part of a biotechnological drug molecule research and development program for the virus, said professor Urartu Özgür Şafak Şeker. "We tried to make the kit as simple as possible so that people can use it at home. The patient can use swabs from their throat or saliva,” he added.
The program's animal trials have already been successfully completed, Şeker said. "We're making a design to produce the diagnostic kit entirely in our country. This way we hope to reduce external dependence as much as possible and to minimize problems in the supply chain," he said.
Şeker and his team also support Turkish companies in developing COVID-19 antibody tests to reduce foreign market dependency.
Alternative treatment and prevention
The fiber and laser systems developed in another research program under the leadership of associate professor Bülend Ortaç aim to provide efficient alternative care solutions for COVID-19. "The treatment properties of the systems have been documented in intravenous applications performed on 10,000 patients. The results can be obtained by sending rays of given doses and wavelengths to the patient's body using UV laser technology where the disease is populated,” he said.
Professor Hilmi Volkan Demir and his team are working on a "very efficient disinfection system based on deep ultraviolet LEDs" that do not contain chemicals or heavy metals and are energy efficient. "The research aims to develop a device to disinfect indoor spaces with a high probability of virus contamination such as hospitals, schools and public vehicles,” Demir said.
Another research program led by assistant professor Fatih Inci aims to develop a bedside device that can be used in hospitals, with microfluidics and metamaterial-based plasmonic sensors that directly determine the amount of viral load, focusing on the diagnosis of COVID-19. "That device can also be used in treatment monitoring processes. Thanks to sensitive sensors placed in channels as thin as capillaries, the presence and number of viruses are determined delicately and precisely by looking at the color change in the light wavelength,” he said.
Inci and his team are also focusing on diagnosis and treatment research, which determines the presence of viral biomarkers via portable sensor chips that can be applied at the time of need. "The results (from the sensors) can be obtained with mobile devices, and they can be used by health care professionals through secure cloud platforms to access and follow up on the patient's diagnosis and treatment,” Inci said.
Dr. Gürkan Yeşilöz and his team aim to develop a portable diagnostic platform that works with a microwave-microfluidic integrated bio-nano-sensor system. "It is a fast, efficient and easy diagnosis and detection system for viruses or diseases, including COVID-19,” Yeşilöz said. "In this system, the virus is detected by specially designed resonance circuits operating at high frequencies in swab samples taken from the mouth and nose, and the changes in the microwave spectrum formed on the biosensor are accurately analyzed.”
The research aims to increase COVID-19 screening capacity, for example at bedside test points or in ambulances, Yeşilöz stressed, adding that it also aims to help efforts against the pandemic at the social and global level.
UNAM was established as a national laboratory to develop international scientific and technological excellence in disciplines such as material sciences and engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, physics, chemistry and molecular biology under the umbrella of nanoscience and nanotechnology.
It serves as a national lab for over 1,500 users with over 100 universities and over 100 companies from the industry, including research and development (R&D) and tech firms. UNAM supports a wide range of scientific research and technological development with over 400 instruments, 87 laboratories and two separate cleanrooms covering a total space of some 10,500 square meters (113,000 square feet). It offers numerous financial aid options and prestigious fellowship or scholarship opportunities for graduate students. UNAM has become a magnet for talented people working in nanotechnology and related fields with its constantly growing post-graduate and post-doctoral research staff. It also contributes to the recognition of Turkey in science and technology, with 70 international and 62 national awards.