Exploring New Technologies for the Preparation of Near-Monodisperse Microbubble Suspensions

Lead Research Organisation: University College London


The preparation of stable microbubble suspensions is fundamental to a wide range of technological applications across the scientific, engineering, medical and industrial sectors; from the production of basic foodstuffs to the self-assembly of smart materials. The aim of this project is to investigate the feasibility of using novel techniques for the rapid production of coated microbubbles with a high degree of quality control. The work will focus on the generation of phospholipid-coated microbubbles for use as targeted drug-delivery agents in the detection and treatment of cancer. This application presents a significant challenge in terms of the constraints on bubble size, monodispersity and uniformity and a successful outcome would have huge impact across both the industrial and research communities. The project will draw upon complementary expertise from engineering, materials science and medicine and represents a key stage in the development of larger multi-disciplinary projects and future exploitation of the technology.


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Description The principal aim of this project was to investigate the feasibility of novel processing methods for the production of coated microbubble suspensions which could provide a high degree of quality control over microbubble characteristics. It was successfully demonstrate that both coaxial electrohydrodynamic and microfluidic processing could produce bubbles with very narrow size distributions and uniform coatings. Both techniques were shown to be greatly superior to conventional methods such as sonication in this respect and more efficient. Further investigation of upscaling potential is required to achieve comparable yields. Microfluidic processing was found to produce the most monodisperse suspensions but the electrohydrodynamic method was better suited to producing smaller bubbles and also had the advantage of being less susceptible to nozzle clogging.
Exploitation Route In the food and pharmaceutical industry; also in other sectors requiring encapsulation such as the cosmetics industry and materials engineering and in the case of the microfluidic bubbling, tissue engineering. The electrohydrodynamic (EHD) technology was further developed via a subsequent 1 year grant and has now been patented (patent no. 1102148). The investigators received a 2009 Royal Society Brian Mercer Innovation Award and the 2010 Worshipful Company of Armourers and Brasiers Venture prize to start a spin-out company (AtoCap) through which they are commercialising the (EHD) technology and also the microfluidic devices developed in this project. They have also commenced funded collaborations with Unilever and Veloxis to exploit both technologies in the food industry with the former and the EHD methods in the pharmaceutical industry with the latter. The investigators have also commenced several clinical collaborations for controlled drug delivery.
Sectors Healthcare,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

URL http://www.mecheng.ucl.ac.uk/research/biomedical-engineering/microencapsulation
Description The techniques developed under this research grant have formed the basis for collaboration with Unilever to apply them to food product engineering for enhanced nutritional value.
First Year Of Impact 2008
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink
Impact Types Economic

Description CASE studentship
Amount £90,000 (GBP)
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2010 
End 03/2014
Description Research award
Amount $400,000 (USD)
Organisation Alzheimer's Association 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United States
Start 11/2009 
End 09/2012
Description Responsive mode research grant
Amount £600,000 (GBP)
Funding ID EP/IO32428/1 & EP/IO32355/1 
Organisation Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2011 
End 09/2015
Title Systems and Methods for Microbubble Production 
Description New technique for the formation of mono disperse microbubbles 
IP Reference GB0706175.7 
Protection Patent application published
Year Protection Granted 2008
Licensed No
Impact Formation of a spin-out company: AtoCap
Description British Science Association Festival 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? Yes
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Inspired young people to explore engineering as a career; communicated the breadth and significance of engineering to the public

Feedback from school groups on increased interest in Engineering
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2006,2007,2008