Major grants for biosensor research

Biosensors with extremely small gold particles known as “nanoparticles” are helping researchers to improve the development of biological drugs. They are also playing a role in the diagnosis of disease. Daniel Aili at LiU is the principal investigator for a project that has been awarded SEK 5 million from the Swedish Research Council and Vinnova’s joint initiative in biological drugs. 

Photo credit: SvisioTo put it simply, biological drugs are copies of substances that occur naturally in the body. They are currently used for, among other things, the treatment of certain cancers and inflammatory diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Antibodies used as vaccines or treatments are considered to be biological drugs, as are various signal substances that influence how cells communicate with each other.

“The use of drugs based on antibodies is advancing rapidly. But they are, unfortunately, often very expensive to develop and produce, which makes it difficult for the healthcare system to offer patients an effective treatment, for reasons of cost. That’s why there is an acute need for new technology that provides better opportunities to make the development and production processes more efficient,” says Daniel Aili, researcher at the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology, Linköping University.

The aim of the new research project is to develop new tools that make it possible to follow the production process of antibodies and other biological drugs. The researchers want to be able to measure important properties that reflect the quality, and they want to be able to do this in realtime. This is a large collaborative project that involves two biotechnology companies and several LiU researchers within applied physics.

Golden sensor

Daniel AiliPhoto credit: Sofia StrömThe LiU researchers have spent several years developing biosensor technology, which they can now continue to develop such that it can be used for several specific applications. The technology exploits the fact that gold nanoparticles have unique optical properties that make them suitable for use in sensors based on fibre optics. The biosensor makes it possible for researchers to measure interactions between biological molecules in realtime. They now plan to develop the biosensor technology such that it is suitable to detect exactly the molecules that are interesting for the production of biological drugs. The biotechnology companies that are participating in the project will be working to integrate the technology into larger systems.

“This is truly a project that extends from starting gun to finishing line. This brings with it challenges, of course, but gives greater chances of success,” says Daniel Aili.

Various applications

Daniel Aili’s research group is also involved in several other collaborative projects in which researchers at several universities are developing sensors for various medical applications. Together with researchers at Örebro University and Malmö University, for example, he has recently been awarded SEK 3 million from the Swedish Research Council for another project. The aim in this case is to optimise the sensors such they can be used in diagnosis and enable dentists to discover periodontitis at an early stage. Around 40% of adults in Sweden older than 50 years have periodontitis and this chronic inflammatory disease can cause problems.

“Not only is this a widespread disease in itself; there is also a clear connection between periodontitis and many other serious systemic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer disease, diabetes, and rheumatic diseases,” says Daniel Aili.

Another research project focusses on neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer disease. This project is being conducted in collaboration with the Alzecure foundation, the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and Karolinska Institutet.