Sensing continuous chemical changes: SouthWestSensor
Wearable technologies are increasingly available in our modern society to record our heart rate and physical activity, but it remains extremely difficult to effectively monitor the continuous chemical changes of the body or the effectiveness of medical drugs.
Current detection technologies rely on expensive medical equipment and infrequent one-time measurements that may miss out vital information, leading to wrong diagnosis and poor treatment.
Continuous, real-time measurement of biomolecule levels from blood or tissue fluids would accelerate the understanding of fundamental physiological and pathological processes, empowering healthcare professionals to make faster and potentially life-saving interventions.
Dr Xize Niu, an Associate Professor within Engineering and the Environment at the University of Southampton, is innovating at the centre of this scientific and engineering challenge. He has founded SouthWestSensor (SWS) Limited, an ambitious spinout that has created proprietary and patented technologies for portable and wearable sensors that are able to monitor chemicals in fluids in real-time.
The technology makes it possible to continuously measure chemical and biological molecules with a high level of accuracy, leading to applications including wearable devices that monitor the glucose and drug levels of the body as well as non-medical uses such as remote pollutant sensors for our rivers and oceans.
“The device – known as a Fluicorder – has been proved in both clinical and environmental settings,” Xize explains. “In hospitals, we’ve successfully taken continuous and automatic glucose measurements. This means we are able to apply the technology to the effective ongoing monitoring of diabetes and the optimised dosage of future cancer treatment drugs. Additionally, in local rivers, we have undertaken detailed water analysis that is helping us better understand the fluctuating ecosystem.”
SWS Ltd is starting its next phase of product design and manufacture, and is commencing the formal approval processes for its products.
“We are really excited about this technology and think that it has massive potential to impact on multiple markets,” Xize adds. “If you are an electrical or mechanical engineer that’s interested to help us take our innovation from prototype to product then please get in touch through the contact form on this page. We are also seeking investors with expertise in healthcare and environmental monitoring who can help us reach those markets.”
The Fluicorder system comprises of two key components: a thin plastic medical probe and a micropump with an optical sensor. Embedded custom electronic hardware and software processes the data from these sensors and transmits a signal wirelessly to a mobile phone or nearby computer.
The patented micropump, which is at the heart of SWS’s innovation, can accurately collect minute amounts of liquid and detect chemical reactions. The unique solution effectively gathers a stream of tiny samples that can each be analysed to produce a continuous reading.
“Fluicorder’s measurements are extremely accurate and comparable with the latest specialised equipment used in bio labs or hospitals,” Xize explains. “We envisage that our device can be used in intensive care situations where accurate and real-time monitoring is desirable for rapid clinical responses, or be employed for therapeutic drug monitoring, new drug development and scientific research.
“Fluicorder could also become an integral part of a future generation of smart sensor networks when combined with other sensor technologies. In this way a wide spectrum of biochemical and physical data could be measured simultaneously and cross-correlated, which would be instrumental in the future development of precision medicine, personalised healthcare and homecare.”