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Building biosensors for diagnostics – Declan Fawcett-Gibson

Date published: 23/08/18

Declan | biosensors blog post cover image

Building biosensors for diagnostics

In May, Translate opened its summer student project scheme to support small medical technology development projects in the Leeds City Region. The scheme proved to be a massive success and 26 unique projects were funded. Learn more about their work in this blog.


I am a Biochemistry student at the University of Edinburgh, but have joined Professor Paul Millner’s laboratory at the University of Leeds as part of this summer project. The topic of my work is analytical bioelectrochemistry; using biosensors as an early medical diagnostic tool.

Point of care biosensors offer great potential benefits for diagnosis and management of medical conditions by permitting the measurement of biomarker proteins at the patient’s bedside and without recourse to a highly complex analytical laboratory. A prime example of this is the glucose sensor which has revolutionised the management of diabetes, by providing almost instantaneous measurement of blood glucose.

The potential of this field fascinates me, along with other future technologies. One of my personal goals for taking part in this project is to get an insight into the way a working lab operates – so far, I have been able to conduct laboratory procedures that I had only learnt about previously, such as running an SDS PAGE gel.

About my work

Artificial binding proteins, invented at Leeds by the McPherson group, are replacing antibodies as they have a number of practical advantages such as stability and batch reproducibility. Both antibody-based immunosensors and Affimer-based sensors work in bio-fluids, such as blood and urine, with zero sample processing beyond simple dilution in some cases.

The aims of my work in this project are to produce a number of Affimer (nanocomposite biosensors) that can successful detect an analyte with reproducibility, whilst being quick and efficient. First, anti -myoglobin is being tackled as a “model” analyte before we test our biosensors with a host of others. This will bring the field closer to developing a commercial sensor that can be used in medical practices as a rapid diagnostic tool.

As a result of my work on this project, I now feel confident in my understanding of the basics of impedance electrochemistry whilst also founding confidence within myself as a young scientist, that I can be successful. It’s one thing to know the theory, another to be able to apply it and diversify your ideas. This will allow me to progress successfully, with pinpoint accuracy to develop and innovate future scientific technologies.