UNAM's Mission to Geek Out on Mexican Biosensors

UNAM scientists are pioneering biosensors for disease detection in plants and humans. With collaborations and industry partnerships, these bio-detective marvels are set to revolutionize diagnostics, a potential goldmine with a projected $58 billion profit in the US by 2032.

UNAM's Mission to Geek Out on Mexican Biosensors
UNAM's biosensors poised to transform healthcare and industry.

In a world where diseases can seemingly materialize out of thin air, our ability to detect and diagnose them swiftly is of paramount importance. The University of Mexico (UNAM) is leading the charge in the pursuit of pioneering biosensors, those nifty devices that have the uncanny ability to detect pathogens, pollutants, and all sorts of nasties in plants, humans, and the environment. Move over, James Bond—these are the real spy gadgets of the 21st century.

The driving force behind this biosensor revolution is Claudia Rodríguez Almazán, a researcher at UNAM's Institute of Applied Sciences and Technology (ICAT). According to her, approximately 15 UNAM agencies have thrown their collective genius into designing and developing these bio-detective marvels. Think of them as the Sherlock Holmes of the science world, but instead of solving mysteries, they're detecting the invisible villains that can wreak havoc on our health and environment.

“Better late than never,” says María Herlinda Montiel Sánchez, the director of ICAT. She's referring to the urgent need for biosensors made evident by the recent pandemic. After all, SARS-CoV-2 wasn't the first virus to send us all into a tailspin, and it certainly won't be the last. The folks at UNAM are determined to be better prepared next time. Armed with these biosensors, they'll be able to say, “I don't have a vaccine, but I do have a device that allows the detection of a pathogen or virus.” Take that, viruses!

One shining example of this technological wonder is MinION, developed in the UK and utilized even in Mexico. It's like a superhero cape for your laboratory, capable of identifying viruses or pathogens of interest in just five hours. The best part? Similar tests used to take a grueling 72 hours. It's like going from a leisurely snail's pace to a lightning-fast cheetah sprint in the world of diagnostics.

Now, here's where things get fascinating. Developing these biosensors requires a mix of basic science and the skills of mad scientists (well, experts) in the design of new materials, prototyping, and information analysis. In other words, it's a grand mashup of brainpower and tech wizardry, all coordinated for the greater good.

And the projects themselves? They range from early COVID-19 detection tools in the Faculty of Sciences to genetically encoded fluorescent biosensors to monitor environmental changes in the Faculty of Chemistry. At the Institute of Chemistry, they're working on a DNA-based platform. The Institute of Biotechnology is diving deep into the bfVFP protein, courtesy of a jellyfish, which could give rise to violet-hued biosensors with biomedical applications. Meanwhile, at the Institute of Engineering, they're using biosensors to help karate athletes kick their way to glory. Yep, you read that right.

What's even more intriguing is that UNAM has patented some of these works, like a fluorescent calmodulin biosensor and a device for detecting and measuring biomolecules in body fluids. The latter has been snapped up by industry, pointing to the real-world applicability of these gizmos.

But hold onto your lab coats because the biosensor story doesn't end there. According to the UNAM Intellectual Heritage System, companies in the United States that manufactured biosensors raked in a jaw-dropping $28.5 billion in profits in 2022. In a decade, that number is expected to swell to an astonishing $58 billion. Talk about striking gold in the world of science and tech!

But there's a catch, and Claudia Rodríguez Almazán is quick to point it out. “We are lagging far behind,” she says, highlighting the untapped potential in Mexico for biosensor development. It's a treasure trove waiting to be discovered. To make it happen, there's a need for a comprehensive database that can gather all the information about ongoing projects. That's the missing piece of the puzzle that would promote biosensor development and pave the way for fruitful collaborations between academic minds and eager industries.

Imagine a world where scientists working on similar biosensor projects team up to create an even more remarkable device. It's a world where the battle against pathogens and environmental hazards becomes a united front. UNAM's ICAT has already taken a step in this direction by organizing the Second National Biosensors Symposium, where they identified over a hundred projects, including those from other higher education institutions, research centers, and companies.

So, here's to the biosensor revolution led by UNAM, where science, technology, and collaboration are bringing us closer to a safer, healthier future. The age of biosensors is upon us, and it's about to change the way we detect and fight diseases, all while making business sense. Who knew fighting diseases could be so exciting?