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Augusto Tentori

Student’s expertise in microfluidics helps develop prototype device for human radiation exposure detection

If the unthinkable happens, time is of the essence in a potential mass population radiological event, where thousands of people would be exposed to radiation and their survival could hinge on prompt medical diagnosis and treatment.

Augusto Tentori

Augusto Tentori, a participant in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Scholarship and Fellowship Program (administered for DHS by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education), uses microfluidic technology to analyze blood samples for evidence and calculation of radiation exposure dose—a field known as “radiation biodosimetry.” Photo courtesy of Christopher Phaneuf. Click image to enlarge.

Augusto Tentori’s expertise in microfluidics—the manipulation of fluids and samples on length scales that are less than one millimeter—is a key component in a prototype portable diagnostic device that is in the early stages of development this summer at Sandia National Laboratories in Livermore, Calif.

“In case of an attack or any form of radiation exposure or disaster, the main benefit of having a portable device is you want to quickly screen as many people as possible before it’s too late,” said Tentori, who was born in Puerto Rico and grew up in Honduras.

Tentori’s summer research on the Lab-on-a-Chip Technology for Portable Medical Diagnostics project is through the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Scholarship and Fellowship Program, which is administered on behalf of DHS by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education. Funded by the DHS Science and Technology Directorate, this program is designed to tap into the intellectual capital in academia, supporting students interested in contributing to homeland security-related science, technology, engineering and mathematics research and innovation in support of the DHS mission and ensuring the next generation of scientists and engineers dedicated to improving homeland security.

Tentori’s research could lead to the practical use of such a first-responder device that could save thousands of lives following a mass population radiological exposure.

Tentori, who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a degree in biological engineering and is a Ph.D. candidate in bioengineering at the University of California, Berkeley, said “the crux of the project’s concept is to take a portable, fully diagnostic lab to the masses. It’s difficult to design. You want it to be portable, easy to use and simple to read.”

Dr. Greg Sommer of the biosystems research and development department at Sandia and Tentori’s mentor on the project said the device could drastically increase a mass population’s chance of survival after exposure to radiation.

“In a potential mass population radiological event, there is currently no logistical means to assess the doses of radiation received by the exposed population in a reasonable time frame,” Sommer said.

Sommer said the device could be deployed to the point of the incident to rapidly screen people for radiation exposure levels using just a pinprick of blood.

“Several of the chips we use in our lab have channels that are less than 100 microns wide, which is approximately the width of a human hair. Thus, we are able to compound the numerous steps and equipment required in a standard laboratory to analyze clinical samples, such as blood, down to a single chip—a so-called ‘lab on a chip.’ These chips can be embedded in portable hand-held devices for conducting analyses that typically require hours or days in the laboratory out in the field in a matter of minutes.”

Tentori is working to optimize the microfluidic assays on the first-of-its-kind device. Sommer said Tentori’s background in microfluidics is critical to the project.

“[Tentori’s] overlapping research interests and strong academic profile made him a great fit for this project. His experience in microfluidic device fabrication and testing, both at MIT and UC-Berkeley, has allowed him to independently tackle the challenges presented in his summer project.”