26 May 2021

VCUarts Qatar Physicist’s Research Places Second in QNRF’s National Science Research Competition

Honor recognizes faculty’s research using nanoparticles to measure blood glucose levels using a breathalyzer

A VCUarts Qatar faculty member, along with two high school students from Qatar Academy Doha (QAD), have placed second in the ‘Chemistry and Material Science’ category of the Qatar National Research Fund’s (QNRF) National Science Research Competition (NSRC).

Dr. Khaled Saoud, Professor of Physics, Liberal Arts & Sciences at VCUarts Qatar, and the QAD students, were awarded the honor for their project, ‘Fabrication of Nanotechnology-based nanosensor for the direct detection of blood Glucose levels in the diabetic patients’. The project was also recently selected to represent Qatar in the Intel ISEF research competition.

In 2019, the research proposal was one of the first proposals involving high school students to receive funding from QNRF.

Dr. Saoud and the two QAD students succeeded in altering nanoparticles to detect traces of acetone – a key biomarker of abnormal glucose levels – in the exhalation of human beings, using a breathalyzer. The success of the research holds potential for those seeking a non-invasive process to measure glucose levels in the human body, especially for those with diabetes who have to monitor their levels regularly.

“Our aim was to offer a non-invasive alternative to the more common procedure used to measure the level of glucose in the blood – a process that involves a pin prick to draw blood, usually from the tip of a finger,” Dr. Saoud said.

The VCUarts Qatar physicist says that globally, the concept of using a breathalyzer to measure glucose in the human body is currently being explored by researchers; but a fully functional physical product has yet to be introduced into the market. Dr. Saoud’s research would not merely be offering a non-invasive alternative, it would also be providing a more sustainable and affordable option.

“What makes our research stand out is the use of nanotechnology,” he says. “Nanoparticles can be manipulated to be sensitive (down to ppm) and selective to acetone in the breath. In this case, we knew that semi-conductor nanoparticles such as metal oxides could detect acetone – but only at high operating temperatures. This means that if we created a device it would require high levels of energy to detect traces of acetone.

“We targeted this specific issue,” says the researcher. “We manipulated the structure of nanoparticles so that they could detect the presence of acetone at room temperature, requiring only normal energy input or battery sources.

“In this specific case, our material is based on using a combination of noble metals such as silver, copper and gold nanoparticles supported on metal oxides such as tungsten oxide would provide a practical operational temperature that uses a minimal amount of energy but at the same time is highly sensitive and selective to acetone – making a more sustainable and cost-effective model.”

Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education (MOEHE) established the annual National Scientific Research Competition (NSRC), a series of competitions for schools across Qatar, in 2015. As part of NSRC, QNRF and MOEHE jointly launched the High School Research Experience Program (HSREP). Dr. Saoud selected two high school students through HSREP, to participated in the research for the breathalyzer project.

This year, the NSRC started in December 2019 and continued until February 2020, during which students from schools across Qatar submitted a total of 705 research projects. Out of these, 153 outstanding projects were shortlisted to participate in the competition. Of the 153, only 25 received awards. Dr. Saoud’s was one of these. These projects were selected based on their originality and potential to propose ingenious solutions to solve the foremost challenges faced by Qatar, the region, and the world.

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF), a program of Society for Science & the Public (the Society), is one the world’s largest and most prestigious international pre-college science competitions. Intel ISEF is hosted each year in a different city in the US.

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