Science on Tap to highlight funding research for Third World needs

September 20, 2011

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – A leading international researcher at Purdue University working to create a low-cost tool for diagnosing AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and other Third World countries is the featured speaker at the next Science on Tap on Thursday (Sept. 22) in downtown Lafayette.

J. Paul Robinson

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J. Paul Robinson, a professor in Purdue's schools of biomedical engineering and veterinary medicine, will speak at 6 p.m. in the upstairs of the Lafayette Brewing Company, 622 Main St., Lafayette. His presentation, "Adventure Capital: Playing Games with Third World Lives," is free and open to the public to those ages 21 or older.

"With a desperate need to solve serious problems in resource-limited countries, scientists have started hundreds of biotech startups using the Third World need as their primary publicity to raise capital," said Robinson, who leads a flow cytometry research laboratory at Discovery Park's Bindley Bioscience Center.

"Since about 85 percent of these startups crash and burn, this opens up an interesting moral dilemma: Fund them or not. If you don't fund them, solutions may not appear. If you do provide the funding, the majority will consume the money and produce nothing. I will discuss this dilemma and try to identify solutions."

Robinson has spearheaded a Purdue effort to manufacture a low-cost device that would make it possible to perform affordable, widespread medical testing for millions of AIDS victims in Africa and enable them to receive treatment. Robinson climbed Mount Everest in May 2009 and has worked diligently on other projects to raise money for his Cytometry for Life initiative.

Robinson's cell analyzers, priced at about $5,000 each, would measure blood content of CD4 cells that indicate how well a patient's immune system is holding up and how far AIDS has advanced. Normal CD4 cell counts of 500-1,500 are depleted by AIDS. By definition, counts at or below 200 along with the presence of the HIV virus are key diagnostic indicators for AIDS.

Sophisticated machines called flow cytometers now are used to perform blood analysis for CD4, but the machines, which cost $35,000 to $100,000, are too complex to maintain and too expensive to operate in Africa and other resource-poor nations, Robinson said. The new devices essentially would be simplified flow cytometers.

Sponsors for Robinson's Science on Tap talk are Discovery Park and the Bindley Bioscience Center. Purdue's Departments of Biomedical Engineering and Basic Medical Sciences are funding the food costs for the event.

Science on Tap, led by Purdue graduate student Patrick Dolan and postdoctoral students John Paderi and Kate Stuart, provides faculty from Purdue the opportunity to share their research activities in an informal setting, touching on subjects and providing presentations that are designed to appeal to a more general audience.

Attendance at the monthly event has averaged 80 during the program's first year.

Writer:  Phillip Fiorini, 765-496-3133,

Sources:   J. Paul Robinson, 765-494-0757,

                    Patrick Dolan, 765-496-9336,

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