Year/Course: 2018-2019, Easter 2019

Contact: HexagonFab Biosensors, a spin-off from University of Cambridge
Dr. Ruizhi Wang, Electrical Engineering, Dr. Hannah Stern, Physics & Chemistry & Christoph von Bieberstein, Commercial
Mentor: Brian Corbett

The inventors have designed a new real-time and highly sensitive method for detecting trace amounts of biological molecules, including proteins, small molecules and DNA frag-ments, and are now investigating their initial target markets.

Current methods are either simple to use but not very sensitive (lateral flow technology), or very sensitive methods which need a laboratory and a trained technician and therefore are quite slow (ELISA, PCR, SPR).

For example in the food industry, the delay involved in laboratory testing for food allergens can lead to expensive product recalls. Food such as sandwiches which have a short shelf life need to be distributed before the testing is completed, and then recalled if a problem is found.

Another example is biomedical research where most methods are based on optical tech-niques, which leads to expensive and bulky equipment which needs to be shared between research teams.

The new method uses graphene-based sensors which can be manufactured at low cost us-ing standard silicon wafer techniques, and can provide a readout in real-time via a standard USB interface. Prototypes are already being tested in the lab.

The final versions of the sensors will need to be functionalised with appropriate antibodies to capture the proteins being measured. The sensors can also be manufactured to have multiple sensitive regions for applications where multiplex sensing is of value.

The researchers intend to focus on areas where there are established antibodies available for functionalising the sensors. The challenge for the i-Team is to investigate the possible uses for the sensors, and recommend the best markets for the inventors to address. This will include looking at possible life science (drug discovery), medical (human & animal), and industrial (e.g. food safety testing, drug manufacturing) applications for the sensor and the related regulatory hurdles.