Many people are now living longer and have higher health expectations than ever before. This heightened demand for healthcare places an increased burden on medical practitioners and healthcare systems worldwide. In response to these challenges, the Health & Medical Device group at Sharp Laboratories of Europe (SLE) was established to research new health-related technologies for commercialization by Sharp businesses around the world.
The group aims to repurpose Sharp’s core technologies in electronics, optics and high quality manufacturing to deliver new tools for diagnostics, medical imaging and life science research. In order to take our technologies to market we are engaged in collaborative R&D projects that bring together academia, healthcare professionals and industrial partners. Reflecting the multi-disciplinary nature of our work, the group’s researchers are from wide range of technical backgrounds including chemistry, physics, optics, electronic engineering and computer science.
The group is currently engaged in research projects in four areas:
We have developed an automated miniature droplet handling technology using design and manufacturing techniques repurposed from our mobile phone display business. The technology, known as “droplet microfluidics”, uses thin-film transistors on a glass chip to manipulate up to many thousands of nanolitre sized droplets on a single credit-card sized array.
This novel platform technology can be used to automate biological tests, or assays, that are currently performed by hand using traditional pipetting techniques. The ability to manipulate many thousands of droplets at the same time allows hundreds of assays to be run in parallel and the small droplet size reduces the volume – and hence cost - of reagents used.
Uses of the technology range from laboratory based tools to medical diagnostics. We are currently exploring commercial applications of the technology in collaboration with a number of external partners. In one project, funded in part by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Invention for Innovation (i4i) programme, we are collaborating with Public Health England and the University of Southampton to explore the possibility of using our droplet microfluidic technology to perform rapid bed-side tests for antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistance is of great concern to governments and health providers.
To learn more about our droplet microfluidics technology please read our paper on the subject published in Lab on a Chip in collaboration with our partners at the University of Southampton. Some videos of the device in operation can also be found at the links below.
Concept of droplet microfluidic lab-on-a-chip device using a glass chip manufactured using techniques originally developed for the mobile phone display industry
Healthcare systems in the future will focus on prevention and early intervention in complex diseases through regular screening. An enabling technology for this is the ability to detect a wide range of proteins that act as markers of disease. To be clinically useful these proteins must be detected directly from human samples, such as blood, at low-cost and in real-time.
In collaboration with partners at University of Southampton, Oxford Instruments Plasma Technology and Aptamer Solutions, we are developing a fully electronic protein sensing array capable of meeting these requirements. The collaboration is supported by the Technology Strategy Board (TSB) and Engineering & Physical Science Research Council (EPSRC).
A full blood count (FBC) is one of the most commonly ordered clinical tests with over 300 million tests per year ordered in the US alone. Typically, an FBC is performed by drawing blood from a patient and sending the sample to a remote laboratory for testing. Whilst the resulting test turn-around-time of hours to days is sufficient in many cases, there is a need for a point-of-care FBC test that gives results in <5mins and allows clinical decisions to be made there and then.
In collaboration with the University of Southampton, we have developed a miniature haematology analyser that can perform a FBC – including differential white blood cell count, red blood cell count, platelet count and haemoglobin level – from one drop of blood in a single low-cost disposable cartridge. The analyser combines advances in micro-impedance cytometry made by the University of Southampton with a novel blood preparation method developed by Sharp.
Micro-impedance cytometry chip developed by University of Southampton in disposable analysis cartridge developed by Sharp Laboratories of Europe
Imaging the inside of a of inside the human body is traditionally performed in specialist hospital departments using bulky, complex and expensive equipment. Our vision is to revolutionise medical imaging by developing technologies to enable high quality imaging in local clinics, GP surgeries and in the field. We believe that low-cost and easy-to-use medical imaging devices will improved patient outcomes and treatment costs through early diagnosis and reduced hospital visits. We are currently engaged in early stage research to turn this vision into reality.