SensUs Interview: Sebastian & Anna

Continuous sensing is a new development in the field of biosensing. Commercial sensors for continuous monitoring exist for glucose, but not yet for other substances and biomarkers. How does continuous monitoring work and what will the sensors of the future look like? This is the focus of the CONSENSE research consortium. Members of CONSENSE are Sebastian and Anna, both PhD students at Eindhoven University of Technology. Who are they and what do they study in the field of biosensing?

Can you shortly introduce yourself?

Sebastian: Hi, my name is Sebastian. I come from Colombia, where I studied Chemistry at the University of Antioquia, after which I did my master’s degree in Chemical Science. Two years ago I moved to Eindhoven to pursue my PhD.

Anna: Hello, I am Anna. I was born and raised in Warsaw, Poland. I started studying Interdisciplinary Studies in Science and Mathematics, but then steered more towards Biotechnology and finished my master’s in Molecular Biotechnology. Afterwards, I have worked for some time in industry. However, I still had the feeling that I wanted to develop more as a researcher and I decided to apply for a PhD position.

Can you tell us more about CONSENSE?

Sebastian: CONSENSE is a big project in the European Union, with multiple people from different countries. The main goal of CONSENSE is to develop biosensing devices which are able to monitor different biomolecules of interest in real-time and in a continuous manner. In a way that you can keep using the same device, by washing away the first sample, then applying a new sample. 

Anna: What I like about the CONSENSE consortium, is that although you work mainly on your own, it remains easy to collaborate with other researchers.This can enrich everyone’s project in the end.

What is your role within CONSENSE, what is your field of expertise?

Sebastian: My main goal is to study the stability of a new continuous biosensing technology, to make sure they keep their sensing capacity over time. In our lab, we have developed biosensors that are able to measure target analytes in real-time and continuously for at least 24 hours. However, for future applications, ideally we would like to be able to measure continuously for weeks or even months. Currently, I am working on a competition biosensing assay based on particle motion. Particles are tethered to a sensing surface and they can be tracked by optical microscopy. After adding different analyte concentrations, the motion of the particles changes. These motion changes occur by the changes in the molecular interaction of the biosensor components that are target-dependent.

Anna: In my research I make use of bioluminescence. When the analyte is recognized, light is emitted. This can sometimes even be seen with the naked eye. I am also immobilizing the sensor components on DNA to achieve single molecular detection. I am focussing on the cytokines TNFα and IL-6 in inflammatory response. Last year, the SensUs teams had to come up with a biosensor for IL-6 as well and I was amazed to see what they achieved in only one year.

Are the sensors that you develop on the body, like a glucose sensor?

Anna: There are different types of biosensors. The glucose biosensor is a good example of a wearable. It can determine your glucose level, in some cases even for a couple of months. However, the technology that is used for this, is not easy to translate to biosensors detecting other molecules.

Sebastian: So far, the sensors that we are developing are not yet on the body. We are first proving that biosensing technology is feasible to measure continuously. Then we can try to go further and miniaturize them to be applied on human’s bodies.

What does a regular day look like for you?

Sebastian: I work for around three days per week in the lab. During these days, I have to prepare samples and perform experiments. The other days, I am processing the obtained data and analyzing the results of my experiments. Furthermore, I am writing a paper and preparing presentations with updates on the results. Like in every work, it is important to keep a balance so that I can spend some time going to the gym and doing some other activities with my friends.

What are the difficulties in the field of biosensing?

Anna: It is rather easy to make a biosensor that works here and now. Think of the tests to detect SARS-CoV-2. They were developed within a few months. They turned out to be extremely valuable but can be used only once and show whether you have COVID-19 or not. However, to measure molecules as a function of time is quite a challenge. 

Sebastian: Our biosensor technology is almost ready for first use in industrial applications. A next big challenge will be to make the biosensors suitable for other applications, as well as to miniaturize them. Because once the technology has been proven to function continuously over long periods of time, the next question will be: how can we make the biosensors even smaller to make them able to be worn as a chip on the body, or maybe inside the body?

What is your view on the future of biosensing?

Anna: Since we are moving towards personalized medicine, we would need biosensors that can detect multiple biomarkers at the same time. It is called multiplexing. This can create a more specific picture. Compare it to going to the general practitioner: if you have multiple symptoms, it is easier to determine what is going on inside the patient's body. Multiplexing can be tricky, because it requires different simultaneous readouts for each molecule.

What are your future plans?

Sebastian: Ideally I would like to stay in the Netherlands, for that reason, I have started learning Dutch to then in near future apply for a permanent permit or for the Dutch passport. There are many connections between research and companies here.

Anna: I am not sure yet. I like doing research and I would like to stay in academia. However, that can be extremely competitive and stressful. You have to fight for your next position all the time.