Researchers from the University of Bath have developed a new method to detect microRNAs in blood serum, leading to a new class of biosensors for early cancer diagnosis and prognosis. There is an increasing consensus that microRNAs in blood can be used as powerful indicators of the presence of cancer as well as the stage of the disease, enabling better management and treatment of different types of cancer. However, given the low levels of microRNAs present in blood, their use as cancer biomarkers requires the development of simple and effective analytical methods.
The group of Dr Pedro Estrela from the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering, together with researchers from Bath's Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology and from the University of São Paulo, Brazil developed a highly sensitive electrochemical platform for the detection of microRNAs. The platform uses synthetic biomolecules called peptide nucleic acids to capture the microRNAs and gold nanoparticles to induce measurable electrical capacitance changes. The sensors allow the detection of minute levels of microRNAs in blood serum, down to the ranges present in patients with prostate cancer.
The work, published in the journal Scientific Reports from the Nature Publishing Group, was mainly funded by the Marie Curie Initial Training Network PROSENSE led by the University of Bath. The collaboration with microRNA experts from the Department of Pharmacy & Pharmacology was made possible through seedcorn funding from the Cancer Research at Bath (CR@B) network, while the collaboration with the University of São Paulo was partly funded by FAPESP and the University of Bath through the SPRINT programme.
Dr John Campbell is a new Prize Fellow in the Department of Health at the University of Bath.
Following a PhD in Immunology at the University of Birmingham, John undertook at 6-year Post-Doc at the University of Birmingham Medical School researching a type of blood cancer called Multiple Myeloma.
In his Post-Doc, John co-invented a series of assays for Multiple Myeloma, including Seralite - a quantitative multiplex lateral flow assay. Seralite is now on sale globally and the University spinout company (Serascience) recently completed a merger with Abingdon Health Ltd (York and Birmingham UK). John has experience of – and continues to be involved in – developing, validating and commercialising clinical assays.
The primary focus of John’s Prize Fellowship is to investigate how exercise and other lifestyle factors affect cancer risk as we grow older. John is a co-lead of a new Clinical Cancer Research Suite at the Royal United Hospital Bath and he is collaborating with national and international collaborators in this area.
Dr Paulo Rocha has recently been appointed to the post of Lecturer within the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering at the University of Bath.
Paulo has a Degree in Systems and Informatics, a Masters in Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering and a PhD in Electronics and Telecommunications Engineering.
Paulo has research interests in electrical characterisation of thin film electronic devices such as field effect transistors, diodes and MIS capacitor structures. His research activities span from Resistive Random Access Memories, degradation of Organic Light Emitting Diodes and Bioelectronics.
Since his post-doctoral research studies in Max Planck Institute in Mainz, Germany, his research activities expanded to the interaction between electronic devices and living cells. Current research focus on the electrical detection of C6 Glioma cells, Primary Rat Hippocampus Neurons and Diatoms.
Dr Despina Moschou has recently been appointed as a 50th Anniversary Prize Fellow in Bioelectronics within the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering at the University of Bath.
Despina has a MEng in Electrical and Computer Engineering and a PhD in Microelectronic Technology. Since 2010, her main research focus has been to apply her microfabrication and microelectronic device expertise in the development of disposable Lab-On-a-Chip systems for bioanalytical applications (molecular and immunoassay-based Point-of-Care diagnostic devices). For the past 6 years she has been pursuing the Lab-on-Printed Circuit Board approach, in an effort to realize disposable, mass-manufacturable Lab-on-Chip microsystems for the first time. Her interests also include inkjet printing technologies, adding further functionality to biomedical diagnostic systems.
The University of Bath hosted the PROSENSE Conference on Prostate Cancer Diagnosis on 12-13 September 2016 – an event part of the University of Bath 50th Anniversary celebrations.
The conference was designed to bring together academics, clinicians and industry colleagues, highlighting recent advances in the field of biosensor development to improve prostate cancer diagnosis and prognosis. It also highlighted some of the work done within the Marie Curie Initial Training Network PROSENSE, coordinated by Dr Pedro Estrela and which now comes to an end.
PROSENSE is a Marie Curie Initial Training Network on "Cancer Diagnosis: Parallel Sensing of Prostate Cancer Biomarkers" (European Commission FP7, 2012-2016). It aims at training a new generation of young scientists in the interdisciplinary techniques and methods required to meet the major challenges in the development of diagnostic tools for prostate cancer.
The scientific objectives of PROSENSE are to improve sensitivity, selectivity, robustness and speed of biosensing technologies for the simultaneous screening of biomarkers. By coupling these technologies with novel and bespoke high affinity biorecognition molecules onto lab-on-a-chip devices, viable fit-for-purpose PCa biosensing products can be developed. The devices will also allow increasing the understanding of clinical relevance of PCa biomarkers and elucidate how the concurrent analysis of biomarkers can inform therapy.
Over 40 UK and international academic and clinical researchers gathered in Bath to discuss current advances in prostate cancer diagnosis and prognosis. Keynote talks were given by Prof Dolores Dolores Cahill (University College Dublin, Ireland) on "Developments in autoantibody profiling to understand diseases, including autoimmune disease and cancer" and Prof Noel Clarke (The Christie and Salford Royal NHS Trust) on "Diagnosis and prognosis in prostate cancer – combining novel diagnostics and imaging to improve outcome".
The conference dinner took place in the impressive Banqueting Room at the Guildhall.
The University of Bath hosted a four-day workshop for early career researchers from Universities in the UK and Turkey to promote scientific collaborations between the two countries. The workshop entitled "Electrochemical nucleic acid based biosensors and microfluidic devices for healthcare applications" (5-8 September 2016) was funded by the British Council and TÜBİTAK through the Newton-Katip Çelebi Fund (Researcher Links Workshop scheme).
The workshop was coordinated by Dr Pedro Estrela (Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering, University of Bath) and Prof Mehmet Özsöz (Izmir Katip Celebi University) with the help of four established researchers from Imperial College London, Cranfield, Ege and Bilkent Universities, who acted as mentors for the early career researchers. In total 25 young lecturers / postdoctoral researchers from 10 UK Universities and 10 Turkish Universities participated in the event to discuss applications and future challenges of nucleic acid-based electrochemical biosensors and microfluidic devices for biomedical diagnosis.
The workshop comprised a range of plenary talks by the coordinators and mentors, short talks and posters from the early career researchers, talks about funding opportunities, brainstorming sessions, group work sessions and social events. The workshop enabled establishing bi-lateral collaborations with several project proposals being subsequently in preparation for submission to current and future Newton Fund and Global Challenges Research Fund calls. New UK-UK and Turkey-Turkey links have also been developed.
Dr Ben Metcalfe has recently been appointed to the post of Lecturer within the Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering at the University of Bath.
Ben holds a PhD in biomedical microelectronics and has research interests in many areas of low-power signal processing for biomedical applications. Recent work has included the design of implantable neural recording interfaces for detecting bladder fullness in patients with spinal cord injury using CMOS technology. His interests focus on the device-level integration of novel sensing payloads with efficient data fusion and processing. Other projects include biologically inspired neuronal models and computing platforms, as well as the design of multi-array sensors for a wide range of biomedical applications.
Dr Pedro Estrela from the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering is the guest editor of the book "Biosensor Technologies for Detection of Biomolecules" published by the Biochemical Society and Portland Press as a volume of the journal Essays in Biochemistry.
This peer-reviewed series of themed volumes, published in print and online, is aimed at final-year undergraduates, their teachers and starting postgraduates, rather than the research community. The volume is not intended to be a textbook or to be comprehensive, rather a collection of 13 short, punchy chapters, each summarizing some of the current areas of interest, pointing to future developments and conveying the excitement of the field for the relatively inexperienced, but interested, reader.
In vitro molecular biosensors are nowadays ubiquitous in biomedical diagnosis as well as a wide range of other areas such as point-of-care monitoring of treatment and disease progression, environmental monitoring, food control, drug discovery, forensics and biomedical research. Biosensor devices require the interaction of different disciplines and rely on very distinct aspects such as study of interactions of biorecognition elements with biomolecular analytes, immobilisation of biomolecules onto solid surfaces, development of anti-fouling surface chemistries, device design and fabrication, integration of biology with the devices, microfluidics, on-chip electronics, packaging, sampling techniques, etc.
Developments in the area of biosensors rely deeply on interactions between life sciences and physical/engineering sciences, which is not always easy to achieve, in particular due to "language barriers" and the compartmentalisation of disciplines in traditional undergraduate curricula. This interaction needs to be promoted at the undergraduate and early postgraduate levels so that a common language can be learnt by the student, which will in the short and medium term lead to novel bio-(nano)technologies and devices. This volume therefore will be useful not only for biochemistry and biomedical students and their teachers but also for engineering and physics/chemistry students (and their teachers).
Researchers from the University of Bath, the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and the University of Applied Sciences Kaiserslautern publish in the journal Nano Letters the very first worldwide report on the development of an ultrasensitive electrochemical biosensor employing DNA aptamers and memristive effect.
The strategy involves the modification of memristive silicon nanowires (NW) with DNA aptamers followed by monitoring the hysteretic properties of the device.
The nanofabricated memristive devices fabricated at EPFL were used to obtain the best ever-fabricated ultrasensitive electrochemical biosensor for the label-free detection protein-specific antigen (PSA) as a case study, which is a well-known biomarker for prostate cancer.
Dr Pedro Estrela from the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering said: "Our paper reports the development of a definitely new and innovative memristive aptasensor based on the potentiometric and impedimetric detection method. Such a strategy provides a detection technique that gives reliable and validated output data. The memristive aptasensor demonstrated an ultra-low detection limit, well below the clinically relevant range of PSA. Moreover, such devices based on silicon technology can be easily integrated into lab-on-a-chip and point-of-care formats for cancer diagnostics."
The work is of great significance for the field of label -free electrochemical nano-biosensors and, in particular, for the development of memristive aptasensors that can also address the well know issue of the early detection of cancer due to their possibility to detect extremely low traces of cancer markers in human tissues.
While pathogenic bacteria contribute to a large number of globally important diseases and infections, current clinical diagnosis is based on processes that often involve culturing which can be time-consuming. Therefore, innovative, simple, rapid and low-cost solutions to effectively reduce the burden of bacterial infections are urgently needed.
A research team led by the University of Bath and including scientists from the University of Manchester has developed a sensor that enables the initial screening of pathogens in a fast and inexpensive way. The sensor uses field-effect transistors that can distinguish between pathogenic and non-pathogenic bacteria.
The work was led by Dr Pedro Estrela from the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering and focused on the detection of uropathogenic Escherichia coli strains responsible for the great majority of urinary tract infections.
Dr Pedro Estrela from the Department of Electronic and Electrical Engineering who led the work said: "This fast, effective and inexpensive sensor can be used to support current clinical microbiology by providing high-throughput screening of pathogenic bacterial samples. Our technology can be easily implemented as an initial bacterial screening before further advanced investigations so that additional time and costs can be saved.
The large volume production of such chips will bring the assay price down, making it an attractive proposition for pathogen screening in point of care applications such as in hospitals."
The work has been published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.