Year/Course: 2021-2022, Easter 2022

Inventors: Dr. Alex Patto & Professor Jeremy Baumberg, Physics
Mentor: Dr. Alex Smeets

Vitamin K is essential for effective blood clotting, and deficiency of Vitamin K has disastrous consequences for newborns. Currently Vitamin K is only tested in central labs with no point-of-care test being available. Most newborns in the UK have a Vitamin K injection administered shortly after birth, however is not a complete prophylactic.

The lack of Vitamin K testing means that late-onset Vitamin K deficiency will usually go unrecognised. Vitamin K Deficiency Bleeding (VKDB) carries a significant morbidity (50-80%) and mortality rate (20%). Babies with a Vitamin K deficiency will usually develop a bleed in the brain before warning signs start, making prevention crucial – if identified then the condition can be remedied simply with oral vitamin K. The UK incidence of VKDB is around 5-6 in 100,000 live births, but late diagnosis has disastrous consequences for affected families and the NHS. It is estimated that between £1.5-13 million per year can be saved in the UK alone from ongoing treatment costs by preventing VKDB.

The inventors have developed a prototype point-of-care test which uses a protein called PIVKA-II as a marker for Vitamin K levels. This protein can also be used as a marker for liver cancer, and for monitoring patients taking the blood thinner Warfarin or for people with cystic fibrosis. In addition it may be possible to test for other deficiencies at the same time, for example Vitamin B12 deficiency in babies.

The challenge for the i-Team is to investigate the possible applications for the point-of-care test by talking to relevant organisations and charities, medical experts and patient groups, and to recommend the best next steps for the inventors to take to ensure that funding can be obtained, and the test is adopted.