Proof of Concept grants are awarded to researchers who already have an ERC grant. In Anja Boisen’s case, this concerns the Advanced Grant which she received in 2012 for the HERMES research project, and where she and her research group have conducted research into the development of new medical sensors.
This is now the third time that research under this project has shown such good results that she has received a Proof of Concept grant to convert the research results into a technology which can be used in hospitals.
The technology which Anja Boisen and her colleagues are to develop over the next eighteen months must be able to measure the concentration of medicine in the blood. This is, for example, important to her project partner—Copenhagen University Hospital (Rigshospitalet)—in its treatment of children with cancer.
After chemotherapy, the treatment often has to be stopped before all the medicine has been excreted from the body. This is done to reduce the toxic effect that the medicine has on the healthy cells of the body. But all bodies react differently to the medicine; they absorb it differently, and they break it down differently. The current procedure is consequently to take a blood sample, send it to the central laboratory, and then dose the antidote based on the blood test results.
“It can provide a delayed picture of what’s going on in the patient. But—just as importantly—it’s also a time-consuming process which requires specialized labour,” says Anja Boisen.
Her idea for a new procedure is surface-enhanced raman scattering (SERS), which can, for example, be used in diagnosing diseases and infections, in food safety, and in measurement of hazardous substances. In short, in most places where there is a need to trace specific molecules.
SERS is an optical measuring method in which light is projected on to a ‘rough’ surface. You need to imagine a lawn—only on a nanoscale—and Anja Boisen has therefore named the technology ‘nanograss’. Purified blood is applied to the nanograss in a very thin layer. Molecules from, for example, cancer medicine get stuck to the ‘grass’. They make the light disperse, which makes it acquire a new wavelength. Different types of medicine will deposit themselves in different places on the surface, enabling the doctor to see—with great accuracy—which residues remain in the blood and the quantities thereof. This accuracy forms the basis of a more precise chemotherapy antidote dosage.”Doctors will be able to make measurements in a few minutes, and perhaps even monitor the patient in real time.”Professor Anja Boisen
“Our challenge will be to combine this technology with the necessary preparation of the blood sample, so that it’s gathered in one product. And we then need to get it to work on real patient samples. We know from experience that there will be a large number of surprises. Blood from real patients behaves differently to laboratory samples. But we expect to have a sensor ready for testing within the eighteen months covered by the grant,” she says and continues:
“If we succeed with the project, doctors will in future be able to make measurements in a few minutes, and perhaps even monitor the patient in real time. By the bedside, mind you, and without the need of specialized staff, and without having to send the samples to a central laboratory.”
Anja Boisen has previously received two Proof of Concept grants, with the first grant resulting in the spinout business Bluesense Diagnostics. The second grant for a project on small raman spectrometers and new measuring methods for crystallography has also resulted in the establishment of a business, which is in the start-up phase.