Seven new projects approved under PH-US research initiative

Despite some controversies regarding its budget, a research and development initiative between Philippine universities and the University of California has approved seven new projects in health and infrastructure, including sensors to monitor cardiopulmonary functions and an information system that will automate irrigation in local farms.

Photo credit: PCARI

Photo credit: PCARI

“This is a new approach to enhance capacity of higher education institutions (HEIs) and R&D (research and development) that translates to technological innovations for addressing our societal problems,” said William G. Padolina, executive director of the Philippine-California Advanced Research Institutes (PCARI) project.

Earlier, the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) has called on lawmakers to restore the P1 billion that was slashed from the budget of PCARI. The project, which was supposed to start in 2013 with an initial budget of P8 billion, commenced only in 2015 after former CHED commissioner Nona Ricafort branded the initiative as “anomalous” and disadvantageous to the Philippines.”

The proposed 2017 budget of P1.763 billion for PCARI was intended to support 131 PCARI post-doctoral scholars, which CHED expects to double next year for advanced degrees in science and engineering. It will also fund 35 new PCARI research and development (R&D) proposals.

The PCARI projects involve 15 Philippine HEIs (higher education institutions) with collaborators in the University of California. All scholars are expected to study full-time or part-time in the University of California.

Arrythmia sensor

Among the new projects under PCARI is a research work on the development of a sensor called “wearable cardiac arrythmia monitor”, which is aimed to be a low-cost device compared to what is currently available in the market.

It is critical to have a device to monitor cardiopulmonary functions as part of treating arrhythmia which is indicated by irregular heart beat that raises a patient’s risk of stroke and heart failure. The cardiac monitor should be suitable for wearing over long hours and should have low power consumption

PCARI has awarded an R&D aid for this monitor as cardiac diseases are the highest rated mortality cause in the Philippines with atrial fibrillation (arrhythmia) as the most common form.

“This project aims to address the critical need in managing cardiovascular diseases which have been identified by the Department of Health as the top diseases in terms of mortality rate. The low cost nature of such devices means that it can benefit patients with vastly different financial and social background,” according to a PCARI primer.

Irrigation information system

For the water information system for irrigation, an observatory will be built in order to provide real-time information on soil (moisture, for instance), meteorological (atmospheric) and hydrologic (surface and subsurface water source) conditions in the farm.

With the system’s ability to accurately determine environmental conditions, automation of irrigation of farms based on a programmed schedule becomes possible.

The other PCARI projects are a fabrication facility for prototype sensors; a device for water purification using porous activated graphene nanofilters (for water purification and desalination); mobile health diagnostic and epidemiologic (disease spread and control) surveillance tool; and the establishment of a Philippine Cancer Phenome-Biobanking System and Biomonitoring Program.

Water purification

The water purification project will develop a design for graphene-based materials for producing materials and devices in water purification and desalination.

“Computational materials modeling can predict properties before materials are synthesized in the laboratory. This accelerates discovery of new materials and allows experiments to focus on promising technologies determined from simulations,” a project brief stated.

Graphene-based materials are seen to be a solution to global water crisis as these allows water and other liquids to be purified at an estimated rate of nine times faster than top commercial filters.

“Graphene is a lattice of carbon atoms so thin it’s considered to be two-dimensional. It has been hailed as a ‘wonder-material’ because of its incredible performance characteristics and range of potential applications,” according to Nature Communications.

Portable sensor

The technology for portable sensor will build a facility to fabricate prototype sensors and other devices to be used by the academe and industry.

“The project aims to develop novel portable and low-power graphene-based gas sensors using wafer-level packaging processes for applications on cell phones, wearable devices, and Internet of Things (IoT).”

This has application in various industries as environmental monitoring (such as of nitrogen dioxide, an air pollutant) and transportation monitoring and control.

“Gas sensor operating in part-per billion (ppb) range is required for environmental monitoring of nitrogen dioxide. Currently there is a lack of cheap sensors, which can operate in this concentration range,” reported Science Direct.

Mobile diagnostic tool

The mobile health tool will create a digital collaboration space where each professional group (medicine, veterinary medicine, and agriculture) will “contribute specialized knowledge for use on a mobile app.”

This app will be made available on smartphones to be used by community health workers, livestock and agricultural extension workers. The app will enable policy makers to adopt policies on speedy delivery of service to communities and monitor allocation and use of government resources.

Cancer-phenome biobanking

The Philippine Cancer Phenome-Biobanking System and Biomonitoring Program will provide health workers access to relevant patient information, supply of human tissue samples, human cell culture materials, and data on threatening levels of endocrine disruptors in Filipinos.

“As part of the biobanking system, two new extensions will be set up — the human cell repository system and the biomonitoring program.” Once established, it can be run by St. Luke’s Medical Center which will expand collection of the center.

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