Cambridge bioelectronics startup aims to revolutionise healthcare – Business Weekly

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Two University of Cambridge PhD students are developing miniaturised sensors that can be implanted into the brain to provide an unparalleled stream of data to help treat serious medical conditions.
Co-founders of Opto Biosystems, Elise Jenkins and Ben Woodington from the University’s Department of Engineering won the 2022 Wolfson Enterprise Competition earlier this year after successfully pitching their concept to a panel of judges, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. 
Through Opto Biosystems, Elise and Ben are aiming to deliver a therapeutic device in an outpatient procedure for the first time. The idea being that readings can be taken over an extended period of time, monitoring brain episodes as they happen and tracking brain activity while a person is asleep – with no need for major surgery or an overnight stay in hospital. 
The duo are conducting PhD research in the Department of Engineering’s Bioelectronics Laboratory, under the supervision of Professor George Malliaras,
“The idea came out of a conversation in the pub” says Ben. “There have been all these amazing breakthroughs in research, but they require massive scale surgeries. We asked each other, is anyone going to get their skull sawn off for this? Probably not, so that’s where the device concept came from”.
Elise feels we have reached a plateau for many pharmaceutical products, where the development of new drugs aren’t hugely improving the ability to treat complicated conditions
“Bioelectronics is the future of medicine,” she says. “It presents new opportunities for diagnosis and treatment of serious medical conditions such as brain cancer and epilepsy – complicated conditions where the development of new drugs are not necessarily improving our ability to treat these conditions.”
“The brain is incredibly powerful and complex, but things go wrong and we need to understand it better.”
Ben said: “We both work at the cross-section of technology and healthcare. The tools and devices we research in our lab are not intended to be flipped as an academic paper and forgotten about. We are both passionate about moving these exciting technologies from the lab and into the hands of the doctors who can do real good with them.”
Elise and Ben have already successfully pitched their device concept to the Cancer Tech Accelerator – a programme set up to support innovative technologies that can advance the early detection, diagnosis, monitoring or treatment of cancer. 
Opto Biosystems is one of seven teams accepted onto phase two of the programme and they have been awarded £70,000 in funding by Cancer Research UK, Roche and the Medical Research Council, to develop a proof of concept.
Elise added: “Bioelectronics is not only a buzz or hype, it is turning ‘wacky’ concepts into real technologies that can change lives. I was inspired by the field of bioelectronics early on in my engineering degree, when I began understanding how control systems could be applied to bionic limbs. It’s a field that is revolutionising the way we understand and treat diseases.”
“What we want to do is deliver a therapeutic device in an outpatient procedure for the first time. This means no major surgery and no overnight stay in hospital, reducing the associated costs and risks.”
“Also, when you take a brain scan in a hospital, you just get a snapshot. Our device is more like wearable monitoring tech, in the sense that you can take readings over an extended period of time, you can monitor brain episodes as they happen, and you can even track brain activity when people sleep”.
Ben said: “Bioelectronic medicine is one of, if not, the most exciting spaces to be working in medicine right now. Advances in material technologies, computing power and electronics have developed to the point that we are now at, where treatments that were once thought of as science fiction (and by many non-scientists still are) are becoming real. 
“We are going to see an explosion of treatments enabled by this technology in the near future and to be a part of that is incredible.”
Elise’s PhD research is focused on electrotherapy for brain tumours. Ben, meanwhile, is using flexible and shape adaptive bioelectronics to sense and stimulate the central nervous system. He takes methods of fabricating devices from the semiconductor industry and applies it to medical devices. 
The company’s aim is to create small, thin, flexible chips that can be injected into the body via a minimally-invasive procedure. Once these chips connect with the body’s central nervous system, they can monitor and relay information that could be used to help design treatments. 
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