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Saliva-based Biosensors for Non-invasive Disease Monitoring


Project Description

Training: The University of Liverpool has set up a Doctoral Training Network in Technologies for Healthy Ageing to train the next generation of physical scientists and engineers to develop novel technologies and devices to address the challenges faced by older people and our clinical colleagues who work with them. All students will undertake a specific training programme in conjunction with their research project and have the support of a cohort structure.

Research project: The diagnosis and management of multiple severe conditions and chronic disease requires measuring the concentrations of hormones and other biomarkers. Typically this requires the patients to have blood test(s). Collecting specimens from elderly patients presents challenges for phlebotomists and other laboratory professionals. These challenges are both practical (e.g. patient mobility, costs associated with mobile phlebotomists) and physical (e.g. blood vessel changes, thinning of dermal layers, and susceptibility to bruising, hematomas and nerve damage). A sensing platform is proposed that couples directly with both lab-scale and portable spectroscopy to enable rapid and on-demand, sample collection, extraction and separation, direct from bodily fluids (i.e., saliva). This technology can enable non-invasive hormone testing that offers patient-friendly testing, encourages independence and promotes patient wellness for elderly populations.

New technology: Saliva is an incredibly rich matrix, a valuable source of biomarkers for a range of diseases, yet it is vastly underutilised in medical diagnosis. Salivary technologies are emerging as valid alternatives to traditional blood and serum-based systems for portable, rapid, non-invasive, point-of-care (PoC) testing. In this PhD, in collaboration with Engineers, Scientists and Medics from Alder Hey Children’s Hospital (https://alderhey.nhs.uk/research/institute-park), you will develop a novel, paper-based lateral flow immunoassay for the detection of hormone biomarkers (such as cortisol) from saliva. For this interdisciplinary project you will work in collaboration with Alder Hey Children’s hospital (one of Europe’s largest, research-intensive children’s hospitals), Sensor City (https://www.sensorcity.co.uk/) and have full access (and training) in the laboratories of a world-leading research group in the Department of Electronic Engineering (https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/electrical-engineering-and-electronics/research/) at the University of Liverpool (EEE). Current methods of saliva collection require to chew a cotton wool roll, which presents a choking risk, and cannot be performed in patients with neurodevelopmental delay, neuromuscular problems, or an abnormal swallow. Using a novel microfluidics based approach, passive saliva sampling can be achieved from elderly patients (but not limited to geriatrics; also the youngest of infants and children). Saliva samples could be collected at home eliminating the need for hospital admissions, resulting in cost savings to the NHS and an improved patient and family experience.

The aim: This project aims to develop an innovative sensing device that incorporates salivary sampling with integrated sample preparation for steroid hormone analysis, from a single paper substrate. This will be validated against conventional clinical techniques.
The student will be supervised by: Dr Simon Maher is a Senior Lecturer who specialises in Sensors and Analytical Instrumentation, Dr Dan Hawcutt is a Senior Lecturer in Clinical Pharmacology and honorary consultant clinical pharmacologist who has research interests in paediatric pharmacovigilance, pharmacogenomics and dose optimisation, and Prof Joanne Blair a clinician who has led research studies recruiting patients from multiple centres across the UK and has extensive experience in clinical trials. Industry partners will be identified during the project to maximise the impact of the research.

Strong, ambitious and highly dedicated applicants are encouraged to apply. The project will involve design and fabrication of novel paper-based sensors and a background or experience in lateral flow assay development and/or mass spectrometry is highly desirable.
The ILCMS is fully committed to promoting gender equality in all activities. In recruitment, we emphasize the supportive nature of the working environment and the flexible family support that the University provides. The Institute holds a silver Athena SWAN award in recognition of on-going commitment to ensuring that the Athena SWAN principles are embedded in its activities and strategic initiatives.

We are seeking strong and ambitious candidates with a minimum of 2:1 (or equivalent) first degree in Chemistry or a highly relevant subject. Previous knowledge and experience with microfluidics, paper-based sensors, lateral flow assays, immunoassays, diagnostic testing, molecular diagnostics, biosensors, analytical chemistry, lab-on-chip, mass spectrometry or similar areas is highly desirable. Strong communication, interdisciplinary approach, and team working skills is required.

Enquiries to:Dr Simon Maher and Dr Daniel Hawcutt

To apply: please send your CV and a covering letter to Luine McRae () with a copy to

Expected interview date/week: in July either in person or virtually if necessary under the current conditions

Funding Notes

This studentship covers:
• University fees for 3 years at UK or EU postgraduate student rates (NOT Overseas), £4,407 for 2020 - 21
• Student stipend for 3.5 years at the recommended UKRI rate, £15,285 for 2020 – 21
• A total of £3500 research costs to cover the whole 3.5 year period of the study

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