Innovative biosensor technology developed at UWE Bristol wins prestigious science award

Media Relations Team, 05 August 2021

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A new biosensor that monitors intravenous anaesthesia has won the Royal Society of Chemistry’s prestigious Emerging Technologies Competition 2021.

The sensor, developed in collaboration with UWE Bristol’s Health Tech Hub and Bath-based medical company Somnus Scientific, measures the levels of propofol (the most commonly used intravenous anaesthetic agent) in the bloodstream, making it safer for patients while offering a more cost-effective and sustainable anaesthesia option for healthcare providers.

Evidence suggests that intravenous anaesthesia is often safer and more effective than the more commonly used gaseous anaesthetics, with patients experiencing fewer complications and recovering faster. This improves patient safety, minimises side effects and facilitates a smoother recovery. It also has cost-saving implications as healthcare providers are able to discharge patients sooner than if using the gaseous alternative.

Despite this, gaseous anaesthesia has remained the preferred choice for doctors, as they are able to monitor levels of the anaesthetic in the breath where they have been unable to do so in the blood – until now.

The unique biosensor will for the first time be able to quickly and easily measure the level of propofol in the patient’s blood, enabling clinicians to personalise the depth of sedation or anaesthesia for each patient.

Professor Richard Luxton, Director of the Institute of Bio-Sensing Technology at UWE Bristol, said: ‘‘As far as we’re aware, this is the first biosensor in the world to measure the level of anaesthetic in the blood in real-time at the patient’s bedside. It’s an exciting piece of technology, which could revolutionise healthcare across the world and improve patients’ experience.

‘‘As well as having health advantages and being more cost-effective, intravenous anaesthetic is also much more sustainable than the highly potent anaesthetic gasses. The emissions produced by the anaesthetic gasses currently used in the UK are equivalent to the emissions produced by the one million NHS staff who commute to work every year in their vehicles. Our new biosensor technology can benefit both people and the planet and we’re delighted that its potential has been recognised by the Royal Society of Chemistry Awards.’’

UWE Bristol and Somnus Scientific have been working in collaboration since November 2018 with the University contributing expertise and research from the fields of clinical chemistry, electronic engineering, bio-sensing and analytical chemistry to develop the sensor at their Health Tech Hub on Frenchay Campus.

The award from the Royal Society of Chemistry recognises Somnus and UWE Bristol’s work in developing a product that will fulfil an unmet need in global healthcare. The competition saw 24 finalists pitching to an internationally-renowned panel of judges from some of the world’s largest and most successful organisations. As a winner, Somnus now gains a share of no-strings funding and support to accelerate its work and bring cutting-edge science to the real world for the benefit of society.

Speaking of the award, Co-Founder and CEO of Somnus, Dr Tim Craft, said: “I’m astonished and lost for words, but I’m absolutely delighted. It’s a fantastic result for us. The award also gives us the opportunity to network and be in contact with and mentored by some real experts in the industry, which is just fantastic – I’m over the moon.”

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