Year/Course: 2017-2018
Project type: Medical

Contact: Dr Tanya Hutter, Chemistry
Mentor: Tom Collings, Cambridge Consultants

Maintenance of blood potassium levels within defined limits is crucial to health; healthy blood potassium levels are between 3.5 and 5.0 mmol/L. Both severe hyperkalaemia (high-potassium) and hypokalaemia (low-potassium) are associated with abnormal heart rhythms and sudden death.

In patients with kidney dysfunction, potassium levels rise, and dialysis patients are most severely affected. This group (approx. 57,000 nationally) is particularly susceptible to complications on non-dialysis days.

A smaller group of patients has a variety of rare renal disorders resulting in dangerously low potassium levels, which may require emergency admission for intravenous potassium replenishment.

Recurrent potassium abnormalities also occur secondary to treatment with a range of drugs that are commonly prescribed: drugs that interfere with the renin-aldosterone axis, calcineurin inhibitors and some antibiotics (send potassium up), or diuretics and certain antineoplastic drugs (send potassium down).

Currently, patients are dependent on hospital-based measurement, which can lead to delay and communication issues, impacting on safety and disempowering patients from participating in their own management.

There is a significant unmet clinical need for rapid assessment of potassium in the home setting.

Researchers from the Department of Chemistry and School of Clinical Medicine are developing a low-cost finger-prick home sensor for blood potassium levels. The sensor will be similar to the glucometer used by diabetics, consisting of small disposable strips and a reader.

The i-Teams will be responsible for answering the following questions for the researchers, by a combination of internet research and direct interviews of relevant experts and possible users of the new sensor:

  • Conduct competitor analysis
  • Quantify number of potential users in the UK and globally
  • Understand how likely patients are to buy the kit themselves (if not supplied by NHS), how often patients are likely to test themselves
  • Determine how the sensor can affect patients’ quality of life through self-managing
  • Whether patients would like to have any other features, smartphone app, etc
  • Health Economics: what is the relevant clinical decision pathway, what happens from diagnostic testing onward, and where does home testing fit