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Providing the science – and scientists – needed to accelerate biosensor medicine

There is an acute need for implantable devices that can report prompt and accurate data about the body’s chemistry. The EU-funded ImplantSens project developed long-term implantable biosensors for glucose monitoring, to improve the management of diabetes. The project also helped train the next generation of scientists to carry on this work.

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Biosensors have the potential to revolutionise medicine. Once implanted into the body, these devices can track a range of biological processes, providing doctors and patients with a wealth of insightful information.

Take for example the need for those living with diabetes to monitor their blood sugar. “Not only are biosensors more convenient – and less painful – than the finger prick method, they can also measure glucose in real time,” says Sabine Seisel, a senior scientist at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany, who coordinated the project together with her colleague Wolfgang Schuhmann.

According to Seisel, having access to such information allows a patient to better manage their average blood glucose levels. In doing so, it can also help reduce long-term risks, including the development of potentially serious medical complications.

So why are diabetics still pricking their fingers? It turns out, biosensors aren’t exactly perfect – at least yet. “When a biosensor is implanted, the body sees it as a foreign intruder and responds by encapsulating the device, eventually rendering it useless,” explains Seisel.

Addressing this problem is the main objective of the ImplantSens project. “Our goal was to develop long-term implantable biosensors for glucose monitoring,” adds Seisel.

Turning it off and on again

Most electrochemical biosensors, such as the ones used to measure glucose, consist of an electrode covered with an enzyme which, once implanted, reacts with the glucose in the blood. This provokes a response in the electrode, producing a read-out for the doctor and patient.

However, once the immune system encapsulates the device, the electrode is unable to interact with the glucose in the blood.

To overcome this challenge, the ImplantSens solution added a power switch. “This feature lets us turn the device on and off, letting us measure glucose levels in short bursts,” notes Seisel. “While these bursts are long enough for us to get an accurate reading, the interval between two bursts allows the system to recover.”

That is the abridged version: the system itself is a bit more complicated and requires a careful combination of sensors, polymers and enzymes – all of which remains a work in progress.

Training tomorrow’s researchers today

As well as needing practical biosensors, the world needs scientists who can develop them.

“The potential of biosensors is massive, and our work only focuses on one part of one biosensor used for one type of measurement,” remarks Seisel. “Leveraging this technology’s full potential requires that we teach the next generation of researchers how to research biosensors.”

Reflecting this need, the project gave 13 young scientists an opportunity to get hands-on experience and training in biosensors and related fields. “We aimed to offer the best opportunities to train the next generation of leading scientists in areas of current and future importance,” says Seisel.

Amongst the topics covered were electrochemistry, bioelectrochemistry, biosensor technology, enzyme modification and production, and biodevice integration and testing. The training included a particular focus on the challenging as well as exciting development of long-term stable implantable biosensors for glucose monitoring.

To improve the career prospects of the participating fellows, the training also covered such soft skills as communication, public engagement, creative thinking, self-development and entrepreneurship.

Bringing the science – and the scientists

The global biosensor market is currently valued at around EUR 26 billion. It is also expected to grow rapidly in the coming years. To stay competitive, Europe needs highly qualified researchers with in-depth experience in biosensor technology.

The ImplantSens project, which was funded by the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions programme, has delivered exactly that. The majority of the project fellows have obtained a PhD in the field of bioelectrochemistry and are now working as senior scientists at universities or biosensor-related companies.

“ImplantSens not only brought the science, we also brought the scientists – scientists that will drive the cutting-edge research and innovation Europe needs to maintain its position as a leading knowledge-based economy,” concludes Seisel.

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Project details

Project acronym
Project number
Project coordinator: Germany
Project participants:
United Kingdom
Total cost
€ 3 006 106
EU Contribution
€ 3 006 106
Project duration

See also

More information about project ImplantSens

All success stories