Turkey, Science-Technology, Latest on coronavirus outbreak

University lab in Turkey wages fight against COVID-19

Bilkent University Institute of Materials Science and Nanotechnology develops methods to detect and treat virus

Erdogan Cagatay Zontur and Gozde Bayar   | 02.12.2020
University lab in Turkey wages fight against COVID-19

ANKARA

Turkish scientists working in a university lab are helping COVID-19 patients recover and finding ways to prevent the virus’ spread with a range of research and development programs.

In exclusive interviews with Anadolu Agency, the team at the Bilkent University Institute of Materials Science and Nanotechnology (UNAM) in the capital Ankara described some of the fruits of their research.

They include a rapid diagnosis kit for patients with suspected or confirmed COVID-19.

It is part of a biotechnological drug molecule research and development program for the virus, said Professor Urartu Ozgur Safak Seker.

“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 completed with success, he 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.”

Seker 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 Assistant Professor Bulend Ortac aim to provide efficient alternative treatment of 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” which 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,” Inci said.

Inci and his team also focus 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 healthcare professionals through secure cloud platforms to access and follow up the patient's diagnosis and treatment,” Inci said.

Dr. Gurkan Yesiloz 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,” Yesiloz 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,” Yesiloz added.

The research aims to increase COVID-19 screening capacity, for example at bedside test points or in ambulances, stressed Yesiloz, adding that it also aims to help efforts against the pandemic at the social and global level.

Material science and nanotechnology

The Bilkent University Institute of Materials Science and Nanotechnology (UNAM) was established as a national laboratory in the capital Ankara to develop international scientific and technological excellence in disciplines such as material sciences and engineering, electrical and electronic engineering, mechanical engineering, physics, and chemistry and molecular biology under the umbrella of nanoscience and nanotechnology.

UNAM serves as a national lab for over 1,500 users with over 100 universities and over 100 companies from the industry, including 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 a wide range of 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 postgrad and postdoc research staff.

It also contributes to the recognition of Turkey in science and technology, with 70 international and 62 national awards.

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