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Cafe Synthetique: Biosensors - from women's health to environmental surveillance

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Alexandra Ting.

This month, we’ll be joined by two interdisciplinary teams that have developed low-cost, open-source biosensors as part of the Biomaker Challenge. Both teams have taken their projects beyond the four-month challenge- come check out their prototypes and learn more about how they work!

“Alma – Wearable Biosensor for Monitoring Vaginal Discharge” by James Che and Tommaso Busolo (University of Cambridge)

Gynaecological conditions, particularly infections such as Candidal vulvovaginitis (CVV) and Bacterial Vaginosis (BV), are still a significant burden for many women, particularly as these may be recurrent. Societal and cultural stigma and often adoption of unconventional treatment pose a risk of harm to many. This project stems from the idea of developing an inconspicuous, low-cost wearable biosensor aimed at monitoring physiological markers of infection, such as lactate and pH, in vaginal secretions. On one hand, this will provide insight into what normal and abnormal physiology may be for individual women. On the other, we hope this will provide new insight into the underlying biological processes for research purposes. We hope this will enable women to take up a more active role in their healthcare, prompting them to seek medical advice as necessary and ultimately break some of the taboos associated with urogynaecological health.

“Palm sized spectrophotometer for biosensors application in environment surveillance” by Feng Geng (University of Cambridge), Boon Lim and Jack Chen (Oxford University)

Biosensors detect and convert analytes into detectable signals via biological systems. Using synthetic biology technologies, bacteria can be engineered into whole-cell biosensors (WCBs) to sense physical and biochemical signals in the environment. On top of their high sensitivity (single-molecule level detection), rapid response, portability, low-cost and simple-usage, one of the biggest advantages of WCBs is in-situ detection, which makes WCBs ideal for real-time environmental and medical surveillance. This project aims to develop a portable, low-cost and miniaturised spectrophotometer to realise the potential of WCBs for remote and on-site application.


Café Synthetique is the monthly meetup for the Cambridge synthetic biology community with informal talks, discussion and pub snacks. It is kindly sponsored by Cambridge Consultants.

This talk is part of the Engineering Biology Interdisciplinary Research Centre series.

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