Next Generation Biosensors
Building a platform for emergency stroke diagnosis
Stroke is an acute medical emergency that affects around 100,000 people in England alone each year. Professor Nicholas Dale has developed SMARTChip, the world’s first point of care in vitro diagnostic device that can measure one of the key indicators of stroke – purines – in the blood, identifying stroke faster, more accurately and using fewer resources than ever before.
Prompt diagnosis and treatment is essential to provide the best possible recovery for the patient because brain material is quickly lost. Correctly diagnosing stroke can be very difficult as several other conditions have similar symptoms, and tools such as the Face Arm Speech Test (FAST) cannot differentiate between conditions. Molecular tests were time-consuming, expensive and challenging due to the short half-life of purines in blood. This leads to many stroke patients not receiving the care they need soon enough, and misdiagnosed patients occupying spaces in dedicated stroke units. There was a clear need for a rapid, effective tool that could diagnose stroke in a clinical setting.
Working with Sarissa Biomedical Ltd, a spinout company designed to advance the project, Professor Dale made a number of key technical breakthroughs:
A unique way of coating enzymes onto microelectrodes with sol-gels
The creation of ‘Ruthenium Purple’ to act as a mediator
Combining the biosensors with the widely used blood collection device enabling bedside use
The first real time measurements of purine levels in ischaemic settings and stroke patients
The rapid breakdown of purines in the blood required Professor Dale and the team to develop a tool that could monitor patient levels in a time sensitive manner. Using only finger-prick amounts of blood, medics can make a faster and more accurate stroke diagnosis, improving the patient’s chances of a good recovery.
The NHS is trialling Professor Dale’s SMARTChip across four Hospital trusts and 27 ambulance stations across the UK, along with clinical trials in international hospitals. When in use, Northumbria Health Economists estimate that SMARTChip could save stroke units £25 million per year, by freeing up places currently occupied by those with stroke-like symptoms.
Further afield, clinical staff in Ireland are adopting the SMARTChip to try and predict seizures in infants who suffer an interrupted blood or oxygen supply at birth. Hungarian researchers are also hoping to use the technology to diagnose schizophrenia earlier by monitoring purine levels. As a result of Professor Dale’s research and innovation, patients across Europe will receive faster diagnosis, better care and improved outcomes.