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New research to develop sensors for healthcare and industry

13 October 2005

Scientists who received £20M from BBSRC, DTI and industry to develop new ways of analysing biological questions will today (13 October) announce what their research has achieved. Among the projects funded are advances in smart holograms that can detect the presence of compounds in the body and micro-sensors that could be used to detect the super-bug MRSA.

Researchers at the University of Newcastle have developed nanoscale micro-sensors that can be used to detect the presence of bacteria or to analyse DNA to diagnose certain cancers. The tiny circular disks the scientists have developed use resonance to detect whether a particular compound is present. The team, led by Professor Calum McNeil, originally developed the micro-sensors to monitor thyroid cancer and to diagnose post-head injury brain damage but they are now being further developed to test for MRSA.

Another team at the University of Cambridge, led by Professor Chris Lowe, have taken the basic principle of multi-layered holograms and developed them so that the layers react by swelling or shrinking in the presence of certain compounds. The result has been a simple and highly reliable sensor that can detect a variety of agents with important industrial or clinical implications. Early smart holograms were able to measure levels of pH or alcohol in fermentation but more recent developments have included contact lenses that can help diabetics to monitor their blood glucose levels.

11 projects received funding under the LINK Analytical Biotechnology Initiative, sponsored by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI). Scientists from all the projects will be presenting at a final open dissemination meeting. This will include reports on advances in high-throughput analytical spectroscopy, sensor systems and assays for quantitative experiments. All of the projects were run with industrial partners and the research outputs have strong commercial or healthcare applications.

Professor Tony Atkinson, the initiative programme co-ordinator from the DTI said, “This initiative was launched to help bring academics and industry together to help push forward the development of analytical systems in biotechnology and uses of biotech products in analysis. The world may have changed since the initiative was started but there is a clear need for the analytical systems that the projects have generated. That industrial collaboration has continued after the initiative ended and the application of some of the systems shows the demand for this work.”

Professor Julia Goodfellow, BBSRC Chief Executive, said, “The collaboration between industry and academia in all of the projects has demonstrated the importance of developing this technology. The development of analytical systems may not have the attraction of other areas of science but it is a crucial part of the jigsaw that makes up every scientific discovery. The fact that there are obvious health benefits in being able to monitor glucose levels in diabetics or for MRSA just makes this research all the more important.”

The LINK Analytical Biotechnology Dissemination event is being held 9.30-16.10, 13 October 2005 at the Royal Society, Carlton House Terrace, London

ENDS

Notes to editors

LINK Collaborative Research is a Government-wide mechanism for promoting partnership in pre-competitive research between UK industry and universities and other research base organisations. It aims to stimulate innovation, wealth creation and improve the quality of life.

The LINK Analytical Biotechnology initiative was launched in 1997. 11 projects were funded with a total investment of £20M (£5M each from BBSRC and DTI; £10M from industry).

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £380 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk

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