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UAMS will co-lead research to develop inexpensive toxin detectors

University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences UAMS
The main campus of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock. It’s one of six universities nationwide taking part in a project to develop devices that will be used to monitor potentially hazardous toxins that can leach into surface and groundwater.

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is co-leading a research project to develop inexpensive devices that can detect harmful toxins in water and people. It’s part of a four-year, $6 million project funded by the National Science Foundation.

Dr. Shuk-Mei Ho, vice chancellor for Research and Innovation at UAMS, says the detectors ideally will be made using printers, then naturally decompose in the environment.

“We’re developing the technology into various formats that can be put into an ambient environment like soil, water, and get real-time signals,” she said in an interview with KUAR News.

The devices would monitor toxins that can leach into surface or groundwater.

“We are constantly facing a lot of climate-related changes that might move toxins from one place to another,” Ho said.

An example, she said, would be heavy rainfall causing chemicals from an industrial piece of land to flow into a river or through underground water. The detectors would be especially beneficial for vulnerable communities that are disproportionately exposed to such chemicals.

“We might want to detect whether a child has been exposed to lead from the drinking water contamination, and we can detect from either the urine or the blood,” Ho said.

UAMS will focus its work in the project on creating sensors that can detect heavy metals in urine. It’s one of six universities nationwide taking part in the project. Another is the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, which will lead a hybrid mentoring and summer research program for underrepresented minority students.

UAMS is being awarded $908,952 for its part of the project, which is titled “Facilitating Ubiquitous Technology Utilizing Resilient Eco-friendly (FUTURE) Sensors.” Funding is through a program intended to enhance research competitiveness of targeted states and other jurisdictions.

The project is being led by Terri Murray, Ph.D., an associate professor of biomedical engineering at Louisiana Tech University. Other schools involved are Louisiana State University, Boise State University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Michael Hibblen was a journalist for KUAR News from May 2009 — December 2022. During his final 10 years with the station, he served as News Director. In January 2023, he was hired by Arkansas PBS to become its Senior Producer/ Director of Public Affairs.