An undergraduate and graduate student team at The American University in Cairo (AUC) -- the only team from the Middle East and Africa -- has been selected as one of 10 teams worldwide to compete in Eindhoven University of Technology’s SensUs biosensor competition. AUC will be competing against top universities, such as Imperial College London and Uppsala University.Inaugurated last year, the SensUs competition asks each team to create innovative, practical biosensor devices that can detect a molecule or blood marker for early disease detection. In this year’s competition, each team will create an original device to detect a peptide produced by heart cells that reflects heart failure in its early stages.
“As an educator, I see this as the best way to teach students: bring them a real-life challenge,” said Hasan Azzazy, professor in the Department of Chemistry who serves as the AUC coordinator and an investigator for the SensUs competition.”
One of the main tenets of the competition is that each team must be multidisciplinary, and AUC’s team is exactly that. From a cardiologist to a computer engineer, these students are using their combined pool of diverse knowledge to create an innovative device.
Emphasizing the benefits of a multidisciplinary experience, Azzazy noted that “students from across disciplines are constantly teaching each other. When they take part in the competition, they will continue to learn from all the other teams.”
Under the guidance of Azzazy and Maki Habib, professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Master of Engineering program in robotics, control and smart systems, the AUC team is actively preparing for this September’s competition when they will travel to Eindhoven University and have their device judged against other teams. Both AUC and SensUs have provided the team with ample support, allowing them access to the advanced resources needed to create such a device.
“Students get invaluable experience by dealing with every step of the process. There is nothing in education better than taking a student from a real-life challenge to a practical, physical solution to solve a problem. I cannot find anything better on Earth.”
All students selected for the AUC team had to undergo a rigorous application process, ensuring that they had the skills and dedication necessary for such a significant commitment. The 10 students are:
Abo Bakr Salamah: pursuing master’s in biotechnology
Ahmed El Baz: pursuing master’s in biotechnology
Ahmed Koptan: pursuing bachelor’s in mechanical engineering (mechatronics).
Ahmed Yamany: pursuing a dual master’s in biotechnology and nanotechnology
Alaa Ahmed: pursuing a bachelor's in mechanical engineering (mechatronics).
David Salama: pursuing a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering (mechatronics).
Mayada Mazher: pursuing a master’s in biotechnology.
Mohamed Shahawy: pursuing a bachelor’s in computer engineering.
Nada Moustafa: pursuing a master’s in biotechnology.
Yehia Gab-Allah: pursuing a bachelor’s in electronics and communication engineering
Alaa Ahmed, an undergraduate student who is majoring in mechanical engineering and minoring in biomedical sciences, said that this competition merges two of her greatest academic passions. “I wanted to join the team because I’m interested in integrating sciences and engineering, and this was a direct link between them,” she said. “At the same time, the cause, helping heart disease, was more important to me than many other causes.”
For Abo Bakr Salamah, a cardiologist by training, “heart failure is a daily practice or a daily suffering. It’s challenging to work with people from different backgrounds, but it also means there are more ideas. When you are a specialist you only have a single perspective, so when each person in the group adds his or her own point of view, we create better, more innovative ideas."
Reflecting on the competition, Nada Moustafa, one of the team's leaders, noted that “SensUs is unique because coming up with a functioning prototype along with marketing plans requires a truly multidisciplinary team with flexible mentalities and an environment that allows every team member to learn and expand. I am looking forward to the moments of public involvement, especially testing our biosensor with real patient samples. This transition to clinical settings should be very interesting.”
While the students are still in the planning and preparation stage, they will soon begin experimental research to create their biosensor device. As Azzazy noted, not only will this experience benefit the students individually, but it will also be “a huge boost for the field of biosensors, which is poised to change medicine significantly.”