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Helping Prevent Blood Poisoning

Researchers Win $25K Grant to Commercialize Technology

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Assoc. Prof. Sanjeev Manohar

By Edwin L. Aguirre

Chemical Engineering Assoc. Prof. Sanjeev Manohar and his team have developed an inexpensive, easy-to-use sensor system that instantaneously detects endotoxins, compounds from bacteria that can cause septicemia and sepsis.

The team joins two other groups of University researchers — led by Assoc. Prof. Joel Therrien of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Asst. Prof. Ramaswamy Nagarajan of Plastics Engineering — that have won three of this year’s nine grants from the UMass Commercial Ventures & Intellectual Property (CVIP) Technology Development Fund. The rest of the awardees are faculty members from the Amherst, Dartmouth and Worcester campuses.

The grants, which amount to $25,000 each, are given by the UMass President’s Office to professors with the best chances of turning their technologies into commercial success.

A Life-Threatening Condition

Septicemia and sepsis, also known as “blood poisoning,” are life-threatening conditions that arise from various infections, including those of the skin, lungs, abdomen and urinary tract. Unless aggressively treated with antibiotics and intravenous fluids, patients with these conditions usually die. Those who do survive severe bloodstream poisoning are more likely to have permanent organ damage, cognitive impairment and physical disability, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In 2008 alone, an estimated $14.6 billion was spent on hospitalizations for septicemia, states a CDC report.

“Our handheld sensor will help detect the early onset of septicemia or sepsis, which claims about 2 million lives each year in the United States,” says Manohar, who is director of UMass Lowell’s Biomedical Engineering and Biotechnology Program.

He says many products undergo required endotoxin testing to prevent such illnesses. The global industrial microbiological market conducts roughly 1.5 billion tests every year, which cost about $4.5 billion. These tests are done for beverages, food processing, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, personal care products and environmental and industrial processes. 

Manohar says existing tests are based on using blood from horseshoe crabs, which is a slow, cumbersome process (it takes days for a single test) and expensive (one quart of horseshoe crab blood costs about $15,000). 

“Plus, the horseshoe crab population is declining so there is urgent need for a fast, low-cost endotoxin detection system,” he says. “Our sensor is designed for industrial applications and its sensitivity and selectivity exceeds that of any detector in the market today.”

Manohar’s initial research has been funded by the U.S. Army Research Lab. He plans to use the CVIP grant to create a prototype of the device, test real-world samples and use the resulting data to attract licensees to manufacture the sensor.