The Lau'Sens team wins three prizes at the SensUs competition
The Lau'Sens interdisciplinary team developed an award-winning biosensor to detect and measure interleukin-6.
Twelve students from the Lau'Sens interdisciplinary project participated in the international SensUs competition, which every year challenges students from all over the world to develop their own innovative biosensing systems.
For each edition, a health indicator with societal impact is chosen in collaboration with representatives from academia, industry, and healthcare. This year's competition challenged teams to detect and measure the concentration of interleukin-6 in blood to facilitate the early diagnosis of sepsis.
Sepsis is a generalized inflammatory response of the immune system to an infection. If not recognized early and managed promptly, it can result in death within hours. Although the global burden of sepsis is difficult to determine, it is estimated that in 2017, 48.9 million cases and 11 million deaths were related to sepsis, which would account for 20% of all deaths worldwide.
Interleukin-6 is a cytokine secreted by immune cells involved in a wide range of biological activities. Its elevated production at the onset of inflammation makes it one of the early markers of sepsis.
An inherently interdisciplinary challenge
To be successful, teams must creatively combine molecular detection techniques with traditional engineering measurement techniques. Biosensing technologies are therefore inherently interdisciplinary, and this is reflected in the Lau'Sens team, whose members include students in microtechnology, life sciences, communication systems and technology management.
To develop its device in only six months, the Lau'Sens team divided the work between several sub-teams; a sub-team responsible for the bioassay, another dedicated to microfluidics, a team responsible for software development and finally, a team dedicated to the entrepreneurial aspects of the project.
Throughout the semester, the students performed measurements on different concentrations of interleukin-6 to establish an accurate calibration curve, experimented with different techniques to overcome aggregation problems due to the use of plasma as well as to optimize the detection time of samples by changing different parameters of their experimental protocol.
"The challenge of working in an interdisciplinary team has strengthened our communication and management skills, teaching us the importance of seeking expertise from fields other than our own," said Camille Pescatore, a Master's student in Life Sciences and member of the software team.
The biosensors developed for the competition are typically judged on multiple criteria such as measurement accuracy, speed and sample volume required. The jury also evaluates the creativity of the solution developed by the students, both in terms of technological innovations and the way the teams worked throughout the development of their project.
The translational potential of their sytem is also an important factor as it represents its real-life scalability potential. To demonstrate this, the teams must present a detailed business plan. Finally, the teams' communication skills are rewarded by a "public inspiration" prize based on a vote open to the public.
This year once again, the EPFL team stood out by winning two first places, respectively for the performance of their biosensor and for its translational potential. What's more, the Lau'Sens team was able to mobilize a wide audience during the public vote and left with the second prize for "public inspiration".
A promising result for an experiment that allowed the 12 Master's students to get a taste of what awaits them after their studies at EPFL.
"Building a sensor from scratch not only allowed me to apply the knowledge I had acquired throughout my time at EPFL, but also pushed me to identify a market and a use for the device we were developing. Working on a project that has the potential to have a real impact on the lives of many people is a rich and unique experience" added Camille Pescatore.