Dr Ren Kangning (centre) and his team members: PhD student Sun Han (right) and Research Assistant Mr Zhong Zezhi (left). Dr Ren is holding the portable device and a test strip.


任康寧博士(中)與團隊成員博士生孫瀚(右)及研究助理鍾澤志先生(左)。任博士手持測試儀和芯片。

The diagram shows the detection process.


操作流程示意圖。

Date: 15 May 2018 (Tuesday)

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HKBU scholars invent award-winning portable device for quick and accurate detection of lead contamination in water within 10 minutes

浸大研發手提式鉛離子測試儀 10分鐘內準確檢測「鉛水」濃度 奪日內瓦國際發明展大獎

The research team from the Department of Chemistry of HKBU invented a portable device for one-stop detection of lead concentration in drinking water. The DNA-based device which works together with a smartphone can accurately detect lead concentration in less than 10 minutes. This invention won the research team the gold medal at the 46th International Exhibition of Inventions of Geneva held in Switzerland in April 2018. Their invention has been granted a Hong Kong patent and an application for a US patent has been filed.

The detection system requires just a portable device and a smartphone. Compared with traditional detection methods, it is much quicker, lower in cost, simple to use, and highly accurate, sensitive and portable.

The team comprises Assistant Professor Dr Ren Kangning and Associate Professor Dr Edmond Ma of the Department of Chemistry of HKBU; Professor Leung Chung-hang of the Institute of Chinese Medical Sciences of University of Macau; postgraduate student of the HKBU’s Department of Chemistry Sun Han and Research Assistant Mr Zhong Zezhi.

Dr Ren Kangning said that currently the only way for people to check if water is contaminated with lead is by sending the water sample for testing to laboratories equipped with professional machines. This method takes three to four days to get a result and is expensive. The new method invented by the team enables users to check their drinking water by themselves without prior training. A user simply has to take a drop from the sample, put it on the test strip and slide it into the device, then check the signal result (brightness) with a smartphone app.

Dr Ren said, “Our test strip is a plastic microfluidic chip pre-loaded with reagents and probes, hence is simple to operate. The smartphone app compares the signal from the user’s sample with that from the pre-loaded control sample. If the signal from the user’s sample is dimmer than the control sample, the app will indicate that drinking water is safe. And, vice versa, if the signal is brighter, it will indicate that tap water is unsafe to drink.

Dr Ren said, “Lead is a widely known toxic substance which if ingested in excess could lead to child developmental delays, behaviour and learning problems, hearing problems, and kidney damage. Lead contamination in water and soil from industrial and commercial activities, such as mining, metallurgy, printing and dyeing, paint and electronics, can go undetected. Drinking water can get contaminated with lead when the water pipes containing lead corrode. Other sources of lead include brass or chrome-plated brass faucets, older fixtures and the solder that connects pipes. The conventional testing method involves technical laboratory procedures that take time and have a high sensitivity requirement, rendering it impractical for on-site testing. Our new invention overcomes these difficulties.”

Dr Edmond Ma said according to the World Health Organization, every year a large number of people worldwide suffer from lead contamination. In 2013, lead contamination caused as many as 140,000 deaths and 600,000 mental disabilities. In 2015, there were incidents of lead exceeding the safety standard in some drinking water pipelines in Hong Kong.

Dr Ma said the invention not only allows consumers to monitor the safety of drinking water by themselves but can also be used for routine monitoring in industry after wastewater treatment, as well as groundwater and soil testing in the field of agriculture.

浸大化學系研究團隊發明了一個以脫氧核醣核酸(DNA)為基礎的「一站式便攜鉛離子測試儀」,使用手提式設備配合智能手機便能於10分鐘內準確地檢測生活用水中鉛濃度是否超標,可及早發現鉛污染問題。新發明於今年四月在瑞士舉行的第46屆日內瓦國際發明展上奪得金獎。研究團隊已為新發明取得本港專利,並正申請美國專利。

新發明只需一個手提式設備及一部智能手機便可即時檢測水中的鉛濃度是否超標,比現有方法快捷,而且成本低廉、使用簡單、準確度和靈敏度高,亦方便攜帶。

團隊包括浸大化學系助理教授任康寧博士、副教授馬迪龍博士、澳門大學中華醫藥研究院梁重恒教授、浸大化學系博士生孫瀚及研究助理鍾澤志先生等。

任康寧博士表示,現時市民需要將水樣本送到化驗室待專業人員檢測,並要等待三至四天才有結果,而且費用不低。團隊研發的新設備讓用戶即時自行檢測飲用水,用戶無需經過培訓,只需把一點水滴在「試紙」上,放進測試儀,再利用預先下載的智能手機應用程式檢視測試儀的訊號(光度強弱),就可即時得到檢測結果。

任博士說:「團隊研發的是用塑膠造的微流控芯片,上面預置了試劑和傳感器,因此操作非常簡單,只需用手機應用程式將水樣本與芯片上預置的對照品的訊號比較,如果樣本光度較對照的光度暗,代表安全;假如樣本的光度較強,應用程式會顯示水樣本不安全。」

任博士說:「鉛是已知的有毒物質,兒童攝入過量可能導致發展遲緩、行為和學習問題,以及聽力問題和腎損傷。鉛可以通過採礦、冶金、印染、塗料、電子等多項渠道污染水源和土壤,再通過地下水及大氣遷移,最終進入水和食物。鉛也存在於黃銅或鍍鉻的水龍頭、老舊的固定裝置或連接喉管的焊料。當含鉛管道受鏽蝕,鉛亦會進入飲用水裡。由於人類無法通過視覺、味覺和嗅覺知悉飲用水是否含鉛,唯一辦法是檢測含鉛量,但常規的鉛檢測方法存在缺點,需通過專業人員採樣檢測、耗時、程序複雜,以及不能進行實地測試,而且檢測靈敏度要求很高;我們的新發明可以克服以上的困難。」

馬迪龍博士表示,根據世界衛生組織的統計,每年全球有大批人受到鉛污染,2013年,鉛污染導致多達14萬人死亡及60萬人智力殘疾。在2015年香港也發生了數宗食水管道含鉛超標事件。

馬博士說,新發明不但讓消費者自行監察飲用水的安全性,亦可應用到工業區廢水處理後的恒常監察,以及農業界的地下水和土壤測試等。