Lab-on-an-Organ: A droplet based portable continuous chemical sensor

Lead Research Organisation: University of Southampton
Department Name: Faculty of Engineering & the Environment


We propose to develop a novel portable continuous chemical sensor. The sensor is a new type of monitoring technology, with novelties on fluidics sampling, online and offline chemical analysis and system integration.
Continuous measurement of biomolecule/drug concentrations directly from tissue or the other body fluids offers the exciting possibility of understanding physiological or pathological processes, recording responses to stimuli, drug metabolism, and even developing new therapies that use biomarker levels to guide treatment in real time. However, such measurement is challenging - the fluids are complex mixtures, the volumes can be very small, and detection methods are limited. Here a multidisplinary team from engineering, medicine and health science, propose to tackle this challenge through the development of an enabling portable sensor device. The device combines microdialysis and droplet microfluidic techniques, will sample body fluids into nano litre droplets, perform assays and measurements in situ, and communicate wirelessly to the user. We aim to develop the whole sensor package and test it in clinical settings for dermal, brain microdialysis and free flap surgery. We envisage this novel technology will revolutionize the current practices of sampling and chemical sensing, and find broad applications in disease diagnostics and monitoring, drug development, organ transplantation and the other areas.

Planned Impact

(A) Diagnostics and therapeutics
The direct beneficiaries of the research will be patients who need diagnostics or treatment relying on continuous monitoring of tissue/organ chemicals, for example diabetic patients who critically need to monitor glucose and insulin levels; traumatic brain injury patients for detecting glucose, lactate and pyruvate; monitoring organ condition during transplantations; cancer or mental health patients for continuous monitoring of chemotherapy agents or potentially toxic drug levels; to name just a few. But each of the groups concerns a vast amount of people, having huge social and economic impacts. A portable and wireless chemical sensor will provide real time information, will allow clinicians to adjust medication over a fixed period of time and make immediate clinical management decisions, thus effectively controlling symptoms, reducing the length of time a patient spend in hospital, improving the quality of life and reducing fatalities.
(B) Drug development
Pharmaceutical industry will also benefit from the project. Both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMA) have emphasized the value and the importance of drug-concentration data obtained from human tissue, and the support on the use of clinical microdialysis to obtain this information during drug development and for new drug submissions. Our portable sensor is especially useful in the study of bioavailability and bioequivalence of topically administered drugs. The sensor can also be used as an analytical tool in pre-selection of appropriate drug candidates before costly and lengthy clinical trials, or in the optimization of drug administrations.
We will communicate and engage with the aforementioned two groups of users and beneficiaries independently. To prepare for the further applications in diagnostics and therapeutics (group (A)), we have included in the proposal two work packages (WP D, WP E) for the sensor development. By working directly with patients and volunteers, and nurses and clinicians from NHS, we will design, modify and test the sensor for real life scenarios. We expect this will facilitate faster sensor development and better user experience. We will disseminate our research results to NHS and department of Health via our collaborators in the project. The results will also be reported or demonstrated in conferences, workshops, website and public affairs, to wider groups of audience and beneficiaries in pharm industry in group (B) and academic researchers.
Description Supported by the funding, we have made the following achievements:
1. built up lab prototype of the proposed wearable sensor.
2. Lab and clinical testings show the device can accurately and continuously measure glucose and lactate concentration in liquids.
3. The device can also be used for water analysis in environmental monitoring.
Exploitation Route The start up company has started the process of commercialization of the sensor device. The first product is expected to be on market in 2 years. We can also provide bespoken devices for continuous monitoring of chemicals in water, under appropriate contract or agreement.
Sectors Aerospace, Defence and Marine,Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Electronics,Environment,Healthcare,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Pharmaceuticals and Medical Biotechnology

Description A spinout company SouthWestSensor(SWS) Ltd. has been setup to commercialize the invent from the project. Up to 2022, SWS has employed 8 full time employees and 3 part time employees.
First Year Of Impact 2018
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Environment,Healthcare,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology
Impact Types Economic

Description Droplet microfluidic based chemical sensors for rapid measurement of nutrients in water,
Amount £176,000 (GBP)
Funding ID NE/P004016/1 
Organisation Natural Environment Research Council 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 05/2016 
End 06/2017
Description ICURe
Amount £50,000 (GBP)
Organisation Innovation to Commercialisation of University Research 
Sector Charity/Non Profit
Country United Kingdom
Start 02/2015 
End 06/2015
Company Name SouthWestSensor Limited 
Description SouthWestSensor Limited is a spin-out company from University of Southampton. The current market for wearable sensors is over £100M, growing at a CAGR of 47% in the next 5 years. Moreover the emergence of the mobile healthcare is likely to accelerate this market's growth by many folds. SouthWestSensor Limited (SWS) is positioned to capture this wave with its proprietary technology: Continuous chemical monitoring. The first product, named Fluicorder, is a palm-sized novel microfluidic based sensor device. The device is fully integrated and automatic, can sample biofluids up to a few thousand times per day (each sample only takes <2 nano-litres), and can analyse each sample in real-time to measure accurately the concentrations of biomolecules of interest (e.g. glucose, lactate, K+, or drug molecules, etc.), and communicate the data in real-time and wirelessly to clinicians or patients. The patent was filed in 2014 and is now in PCT stage. The prototype device has been designed and tested in the laboratory and is ready for tests in clinical settings. Early market investigation suggests the first target market segments are 1) Clinical or scientific researches and 2) drug development. There are no compitive technologies. SWS will design, manufacture and market the sensor devices, and obtaining revenues from sales, services and licensing. 
Year Established 2015 
Impact Started to show impact of the advanced sensor technology by providing disruptive solutions.
Description STEM4Britain poster competition - Parliament poster presentation 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This is a national competition for Postdoc and young fellows to present the most exciting results to politicians and other general audiences.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2007
Description School demonstration 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an open day or visit at my research institution
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Demonstration of the sensor device to school students and parents. They were absolutely fascinated. We were even asked where to buy the device!
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2007