Connect2Innovate Special Part 1 - Biosensing & Interfaces
By Akash Patel, Outreach Manager and Writer, Science Entrepreneur Club
The Science Entrepreneur Club has partnered up with Merck Accelerator and Clustermarket to support innovative startups who build technologies across the areas of Biosensing & Interfaces, Clean Meat and Liquid Biopsy Technologies. With the overall theme of ‘Connect2Innovate’, we are organising a series of events: three meetups on each of the key areas, and a pitching event, which will provide the opportunity to win a cash prize and Sigma Aldrich vouchers for laboratory supplies. The winner also receives a ‘Golden Ticket’ to the Merck Accelerator Selection Days taking place in November with the opportunity to join the Merck Accelerator at the Innovation Centre in Darmstadt, Germany in January 2020.
In the first of a series of three articles covering these three key areas, we take a look at the current landscape of Biosensing & Interfaces and provide an overview of the leading biotechnology companies in this space.
The wealth of physiological and metabolic data that can be accessed directly from the human body using biosensors remains vastly untapped. Biosensors, on the one hand, provide data to patients, empowering them to take an active role in the management of their health. On the other hand, physicians that have access to such data can monitor patients and tailor their treatments with increased precision – moving away from the one-size-fits-all model and towards personalised medicine. There are multiple areas and a variety of applications that biotechnology companies focus on to develop such biosensors. A few prominent ones include brain-machine interfaces in neurotechnology and sensors for glucose monitoring and cardiovascular health.
While the adoption of sensors across different areas of healthcare increases, several startups in the UK biotechnology space emerge and pioneer in biosensor technology. In the area of neurotechnology, for example, startups build innovative bioelectronics and brain-machine interfaces. A brain-machine interface is a direct interaction between the brain and an electronic device, which ranges from interacting directly with a computer to placing electronic chips in the brain that respond to nerve signals. In healthcare, these chips can be used to treat neurodegenerative disorders and other conditions in which the central nervous system plays a major role, like chronic pain.
Neuroloom, a biotechnology company created out of the venture-institute Deep Science Ventures, builds ‘living electrodes’ that once implanted into the brain enable the regeneration of nerve cells and could potentially cure diseases like macular degeneration. (You can catch them pitching at our Connect2Innovate Meetup with the Merck Accelerator at The Bradfield Centre, Cambridge, on August 13th).
Currently, in the clinic, although brain-machine interface technology is used to stimulate the retina with an image signal, aiming to restore sight to those that have become blind due to macular degeneration, the results are often poor. Neuroloom, on the other hand, uses photonic polymer 3D printing to manufacture micro-fabricated structures that enable the neurons to grow and develop new synapses in a method that is highly unlikely to lead to immuno-rejection. This is because the neural interface is being developed from the body’s own tissue - therefore is a ‘living electrode’. Their technology enables the control of nerve signalling and, subsequently, the connected tissue, treating illness and injury for a range of diseases.
Through direct interaction with the nervous system is another area of development in neural interface technology. Nerve signals can be reprogrammed enabling a new generation of AI-based neuromedicine. BIOS, a Cambridge-based startup working in this space and alumni of the Silicon-Valley-based accelerator and funding programme Y-Combinator, has built a ‘USB connector for the body’ and used it to develop a Prosthetic Interface Device (PID). The PID, which is on the verge of beginning clinical trials, allows for neural signals to be sent from the nervous system directly to connected prostheses. This technology will eventually lead to amputees plugging their prostheses directly into the nervous system.
The company has also developed a neural data biomarker discovery platform that combines data from neural interfaces with an AI-based system able to identify biomarkers from neural data. Neural interfaces enable computers to read and write neural data directly into the body. Such revolutionary methods have the potential to change the way we treat diseases and chronic disorders like autoimmunity, where neural reprogramming has the potential to significantly improve an individual's wellbeing.
Another area in which biosensors are being widely developed is cardiovascular and metabolic health, with applications ranging from athletic training to diabetes management. Heart rate, metabolic and accelerometry data are highly regarded for those undergoing intense physical training or just trying to keep fit, and biosensors can provide direct feedback on how people’s bodies react to exercise and show the results. Nevertheless, this kind of monitoring can potentially have a major impact on those suffering from or being at risk of obesity, diabetes or heart disease.
One startup looking at this particular aspect is Caura, a 2017 graduate of the Rebel Bio accelerator program in London, who have developed a sensor that monitors the body’s glucose and lactate levels and provides heart rate and accelerometry data for tracking exercise and recovery. They are developing a two-part device – comprised of a bioreader and a disposable patch – which collects data about the glucose and lactate levels directly from the surface of the skin and presents this, together with heart rate and accelerometry data, via Bluetooth to a smartphone. The device also provides real-time insights to workouts and enables individuals to see which forms of exercise are best for them. It provides results on recovery heart rate following exercise, anaerobic and aerobic capacity and lactate threshold. Although this is initially aimed at those training intensely, such a sensor-based device can develop further and measure new metabolites helping those with chronic health conditions.
Biosensing & Interfaces are a field of biotechnology and engineering that will rapidly accelerate in development over the next decade, as we see an exponential increase in electronics and computational power. There is a wealth of data to be unlocked from the human body that will enable rapid diagnosis and prevention of disease and with biosensors we will truly be able to enter the era of preventative healthcare.
To hear more from the latest startups in this space, including Arete Medtech and Neuroloom, and from the Merck Accelerator team, come along to our ‘Connect2Innovate’ event in Cambridge, at The Bradfield Centre on Tuesday 13th August. Also, stay tuned for more articles about the promising fields of Liquid Biopsy Technologies and Clean Meat from the SEC .
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The Science Entrepreneur Club (SEC) is a non-profit organisation of curious minds that aims to explore and unite the life science ecosystem by educating, inspiring and connecting. We give scientific entrepreneurs a network and a platform to showcase their innovative technologies, find investors and accelerate their company.