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Design and Fabrication of an In-line Hemolysis Sensor For the Quality Control of Clinical Blood Samples (EPS2020/09)

Project Description

In this project, the candidate will develop an in-line hemolysis sensor for non-contact measurement into microfluidic cartridges.
Hemolysis, the rupture of erythrocytes, or red blood cells, is the most common reason for blood sample rejection in the clinic1. Erythrocytes and other cellular content can increase values of plasma analytes, such as potassium, aspartate aminotransferase or other enzymes, as well as circulating nucleic acids, such as miRNA2.

Hemolysis of blood samples can be measured using two main types of methods, with more or less precision. Visual assessment using colorimetry is a non-standardised method, highly vulnerable to operator variability. On the other hand, direct optical techniques for the measurement of hemoglobin are sensitive hemolysis measurement techniques3. Free haemoglobin, released during hemolysis, has an absorption peak between around 560 nm and 600 nm. The extent of hemolysis in a plasma sample can thus be assessed based on light absorption measurement.

The student will develop an integrated hemolysis sensor using direct photometric principles for interfacing microfluidic cartridge (Fig1.D). The tool will provide non-contact measurement of hemoglobin level, and will provide users with an early warning quality control of blood plasma samples prior to complex and time-intensive pre-analytical and analytical protocols. Such a quality control will enable users to exclude samples prior to long protocols, and will therefore save time, as well as provide assurance of sample quality, and accurate final results.

In this project, the student will research the principles, design the sensor and experimental set-up, and test the sensor on clinical blood samples collected on UK NHS Research Ethics approved project 19/ES/0056 and 19/18/NI/0148. The student will design an electronic circuit of photodiodes, photodetectors, and a control interface enabling the automated reading of hemolysis information. The interface with the chip will have to be carefully designed to minimise losses due to the non-contact interface, as well as constraints in commercial fluidic chip fabrication (moulding technique, materials, surface roughness, etc…), and might include polymeric lenses on the optical module (or part of the cartridge in which the samples will be located).

Prior experience of electronic design and manufacturing is required. Coding experience on Arduino, or similar platform is strongly recommended.

In this multi-disciplinary project, you will gain experience in optofluidics, electronics, design of microcomponents, prototyping and manufacturing 3D polymeric parts, hemoanalysis. You will work with other engineers, microfluidic specialists, molecular biologists and technicians, as well as with industrial partners.


All applicants must have or expect to have a 1st class MChem, MPhys, MSci, MEng or equivalent degree by Autumn 2020. Selection will be based on academic excellence and research potential, and all short-listed applicants will be interviewed (in person or by Skype). Some of our scholarships are only open to UK/EU applicants who meet residency requirements set out by EPSRC. Some scholarships are available for exceptional overseas candidates

Closing Date

All applications must be received by 28th February 2020. All successful candidates should usually expect to start in September/October 2020.

How to Apply

Apply Online - https://hwacuk.elluciancrmrecruit.com/Admissions/Pages/Login.aspx

When applying through the Heriot-Watt on-line system please ensure you provide the following information:
(a) in ‘Study Option’
You will need to select ‘Edinburgh’ and ‘Postgraduate Research’. ‘Programme’ presents you with a drop-down menu. Choose Bio-engineering and Bio-sciences PhD and select September 2020 for study option (this can be updated at a later date if required)
(b) in ‘Research Project Information’
You will be provided with a free text box for details of your research project. Enter Title and Reference number of the project for which you are applying and also enter the supervisor’s name.

This information will greatly assist us in tracking your application.

Please note that once you have submitted your application, it will not be considered until you have uploaded your CV and transcripts.

Funding Notes

The annual stipend will be £15k and full fees will be paid for 3 years.

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