Grocer’s Son At Harvard Seeks to Provide Early AIDS Diagnosis


Imagine how “detecting HIV on a piece of paper” using a hand-held device for less than two dollars in 30 minutes, can change peoples’ lives around the globe. Young Ismailia researcher, Sultan Khetani, at Harvard Medical School is part of this revolutionary technology.

Sultan Khetani could not even afford to pay his school fees. Today, he is part of a Harvard team which has developed a technology to detect the HIV virus at early stage. A grocer’s son, Khetani believes in taking chances and following his passion. Read his journey from Ameli to Harvard and how the revolutionary technology works.

It is believed that if we actually want something and are passionate about it, we will achieve it, no matter what; I couldn’t agree more. Sultan Khetani is one such person who has proved that nothing comes in the way of true passion.

Khetani was born in an economically poor family where his father worked as a grocer to earn the family’s bread and butter. Born in a small village in Gujarat’s Ameli District, Khetani left home at a young age of four and spent all his childhood and teenage years living in various hostels.

Ever since he was a child, he wanted to do something “different”. He planned to apply to the Indian Institute of Technology but somehow missed the deadline and got admission in a private college instead. Skipping the classes and spending time in library he realized his passion lies in reading books on Biomedical Engineering. After graduation, he decided to follow his passion and pursue his masters in Biomedical Engineering.

While pursuing his masters from the department of Biomedical Engineering at SRM University, he applied for a Master’s thesis project at Harvard and got selected there. Khetani is now part of an eight member team where he is working to develop a low-cost hand-held microchip device for rapid HIV detection and treatment monitoring through viral load measurement on paper. In simple terms, this technology will enable the user to identify and detect the HIV virus in the body at the point of diagnosis

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has caused more than 39 million deaths and it is still taking lives of more than 1.5 million people per year. Expanding access to HIV therapy in developing countries has already averted more than 5.5 million AIDS-related deaths. However, some of the major challenges in expanding access to effective therapy, especially in low and middle-income countries, are early diagnosis and regular treatment monitoring.

The low cost hand held device can detect HIV with a finger prick of blood.

How does the technology work?

The unique technology will enable users to do viral load testing on their own without having to spend a huge amount in hospitals. Using a finger prick of blood placed on a disposable paper with flexible electrodes, one can find out the viral load in the body. Large quantities of such microchips can be made through printing technology at minimal cost. The test results can also be transmitted to the user’s mobile phone enabling him to send the results to a laboratory or a physician.

The technology is unique because of its low-cost model. Unlike conventional technologies which cost around 200-400 dollars, this technology costs only a few pennies. Also, the traditional tests take around 4-5 days to generate test results while this technology can give you the result in just 30 minutes. The technology can also be used to detect other diseases like hepatitis, influenza, and herpes.

The newly developed weapon can potentially revolutionize HIV management globally as it will facilitate rapid, simple, and inexpensive early-diagnosis of HIV infection and treatment failure for millions of people in urgent need.

Ratanpriya Sharma

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