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A new device that will enable people living with HIV to monitor their own health and the effectiveness of their treatments will be developed thanks to a £2 million grant announced today.
The device will give sufferers a way to monitor the virus without having to visit a doctor so often. It will act as an early warning system to tell patients to seek medical help if the virus is resisting anti-retroviral treatments. It could also be of real benefit to doctors in developing countries who urgently need rapid and affordable ways to diagnose and monitor their patients.
Researchers from the London Centre for Nanotechnology, a joint venture between University College London (UCL) and Imperial College London, and their research partners have been awarded the Nanotechnology for Healthcare grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council's Grand Challenge Competition.
LCN scientists and researchers from the UCL/MRC Centre for Medical Molecular Virology, the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust, Cambridge Medical Innovations, Sphere Medical Ltd and BionanoConsulting are working together on the project to develop the prototype hand-held device for clinical trials.
The research will bring biomedical engineers, physicists, chemists, virologists and clinicians together to create the device, which will work in a similar way to how diabetics check their insulin levels - where a hand-held machine analyses a finger prick of blood.
The device uses nanoscopic mechanical sensors, called microcantilever arrays to measure HIV and other protein markers that indicate a rise in the level of the virus and the body's response to it. UCL lead investigator Dr Rachel McKendry, Reader in Biomedical Nanoscience at the LCN, explains:
"The microcantilever arrays are each coated with substances that stick to the HIV and other proteins, which are markers associated with disease progression. Accommodating these markers causes the highly sensitive sensors to bend like a diving board and this bend indicates the level of virus in the body. We have used microcantilever arrays to investigate drug resistance in super bugs such as MRSA, and are excited by the opportunity to extend this approach to detecting HIV markers."
The device displays clear advice messages for patients on a screen. For example, patients could read the message "you are fine today" if levels of the virus are low or "have you scheduled a visit with your GP this week?" if the virus is flaring up. Investigator, Dr. Anna-Maria Goretti, an NHS consultant and co-investigator based at the Royal Free Hospital, says:
"If patients neglect to take their treatments or need prompting to see their GP the device will provide a simple way of letting them know. It will really empower HIV patients to keep a close eye on their health and their treatments."
Robin Weiss, Professor of Viral Oncology at UCL, whose pioneering work in identifying the receptor for HIV has deepened our understanding of HIV/AIDS, adds: "One of the principal advantages of the proposed device is its capacity to monitor viral and immunological markers on a single chip without the need for time consuming analysis that requires specialist laboratories."
Dr Yeong-Ah Soh, lecturer in Materials Science at Imperial, who is developing the fabrication methods needed to make the microcantilever arrays, adds:
"This project combines technology from semiconductor processing with modern biology to produce a unique piece of kit for tracking how HIV develops in individual patients, and helping them to keep a close eye on their own health"
The project will receive £2 million in funding over the next three years, with the promise of additional funding if the prototype device proves effective.
In the UK, there are an estimated 70,000 carriers of HIV. Worldwide, HIV/AIDS has grown to pandemic proportions and today there are 35 million people living with the virus, two-thirds of them in sub-Saharan Africa.
Grand Challenge Investigators:
LCN and UCL: Rachel McKendry (PI), Reader in Biomedical Nanoscience; Gabriel Aeppli, Quain Professor of Physics & co-Director of the LCN; Tom Duke, Professor of Physics LCN and Imperial College London: Yeong-ah Soh (PI), Lecturer in Materials Science; Tony Cass, Professor of Chemical Biology; Molly Stevens¬¬, Professor of Regenerative Medicine UCL/MRC Centre for Medical Molecular Virology, UCLH and Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust: Deenan Pillay, Professor of Virology, Head of Dept of Infection & Honorary Consultant Medical Virologist; Anna Maria Geretti, Honorary Senior Lecturer & Consultant Medical Virologist; Robin Weiss, Professor of Viral Oncology; Vince Emery, Professor of Virology
About Imperial College London
Consistently rated amongst the world's best universities, Imperial College London is a science-based institution with a reputation for excellence in teaching and research that attracts 13,000 students and 6,000 staff of the highest international quality.
Innovative research at the College explores the interface between science, medicine, engineering and business, delivering practical solutions that improve quality of life and the environment - underpinned by a dynamic enterprise culture.
Since its foundation in 1907, Imperial's contributions to society have included the discovery of penicillin, the development of holography and the foundations of fibre optics. This commitment to the application of research for the benefit of all continues today, with current focuses including interdisciplinary collaborations to improve health in the UK and globally, tackle climate change and develop clean and sustainable sources of energy.
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