Wanted: the best sensor to measure medication for rheumatism

August 27, 2019

During the fourth edition of the international student competition SensUs teams from all across the world will present new ideas for biosensors

During the event SensUs the participating teams demonstrate and test their biosensors. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

One percent of the world population suffers from chronic inflammatory rheumatism. Every day, pain, inflamed joints and severe fatigue restrict their movements. Finding the right type and quantity of medication is a major challenge for treatment. A biosensor, however, can make it possible to directly measure the concentration of the medication and whether the medication is working effectively. During the international student competition SensUs, which takes place this Friday on the TU/e campus, 14 teams from all across the world will present new ideas for these sensors.

This is the fourth time that the TU/e student-organized SensUs competition is taking place, its intention being to accelerate the development of biosensors. These are small instruments that can use a single drop of blood to quickly and easily measure the presence of substances that indicate sickness or good health. People with diabetes, for example, understand how important biosensors can be when they use a glucose meter. “Thanks to these biosensors, they can easily measure how much insulin they need to give themselves,” says Menno Prins, professor of Molecular Biosensing and initiator of the SensUs competition.

Menno Prins, professor molecular biosensing, is the initiator of the SensUs competition. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

A successful competition

According to Prins, the strength of the competition lies in the creativity of the students. “Students are still inexperienced and start the research with a fresh look,” Prins says. “This generates innovative ideas. Teams from universities all over the world work in an open atmosphere in which knowledge is shared. This year, 14 teams are taking part. This means 14 new and diverse ideas and techniques to measure the same substance.”

The previous three editions of the competition each focused on testing for a different substance, ranging from an important antibiotic to a protein that indicates heart failure. The success of the competition is demonstrated not only through the increasing levels of interest and growing number of participating teams, but also by the fact that winning concepts lead to patents, various awards and invitations to speak at international conferences. “Last year’s winning team, from Switzerland, is already creating a very promising start-up,” says Prins.

Every year the event attracts more visitors. Last year 10,000 people from 80 countries remotely viewed the contest event. Photo: Bart van Overbeeke

Rheumatism

This year, SensUs focuses on measuring the anti-rheumatic medication adalimumab in the blood. For patients with chronic inflammatory rheumatism, it’s not easy to determine the optimal amount of medication. A blood test in a laboratory can take weeks and the exact dose is highly important to a patient: too low a dose offers little benefit and irreversible damage to the joints, whereas too high a dose can cause side effects. Not only that but the costs of adalimumab are high. Using a biosensor, the right dose of medication can be determined for each individual at any given time, resulting in more effective treatment and cost savings.

Reuma Nederland, the largest patient organization and research fund for rheumatism, is a partner of Sensus 2019. “We are very enthusiastic about SensUs, as sensor technology can further improve the treatment of people with inflammatory rheumatism,” says Deputy Director Corné Baatenburg de Jong. “Better treatment means better quality of life for people with chronic inflammatory rheumatism and this is what we want to achieve.”

On Friday 30 August, the competition will take place at TU/e. This year, 14 teams will come to Eindhoven from the United States, Canada, China, Europe and Africa. Visitors will attend workshops, lectures and demonstrations and can cast a vote for the Public Inspiration Award. The teams will test their sensors and the winners will be announced at the end of the day. The event is free and registration takes place via the SensUs website. You will be able to vote via digital.sensus.org

Barry van der Meer
(Science Information Officer)

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