Epigem partners with Northumbria University to develop disposable TB testing kit

Leading micro-engineering company Epigem today announced a new Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Northumbria University to develop a cost-effective tuberculosis (TB) testing kit.

A new KTP Associate, Joseph Canyelles Pericas (Pep), will be working at the Redcar-based company over the next two years on a disposable TB kit for use in the developing world.

The Knowledge Transfer Partnership, run by Innovate UK, the Government’s Innovation Agency, not only provides Epigem with a partly-funded and talented, recent graduate but also allows the company to utilise experts, research and data on campus.

Mr Canyelles Pericas, who has a PhD in electrical and electronics engineering, started with Epigem last month and said he was excited by the new project.

“This is a fantastic opportunity to work at the cutting edge of TB research. It’s great to work on something that could have such wide-reaching benefits for the developing world,” he said.

“One of the parts of the project that excites me the most is the chance to get into product development and prototyping.

“We need to develop a testing kit that uses a minimum of electricity but can also send information from some of the most remote regions of the world.

“To be able to work on such a worthwhile project is really meaningful and is something that counts. And to work on such a project with experts from Epigem and the University will make all the difference.

“I am really looking forward to spending the next two years building a useable, cost-effective device that, ultimately, could save thousands of lives.”

Epigem Managing Director Dr Tim Ryan said the new project will include the integration of several, currently bulky, electronics components and devices into a reasonable size system that is operational, robust, reliable and cheap.

He said:

This KTP project is part of a strategic plan for the next stage of Epigem’s development to provide solutions to healthcare practitioners.

The technology identified for Epigem’s next generation of products is challenging and incorporates a set of new technologies requiring leading edge product design solutions – which we know Northumbria University can help us with.

Developing a system using biomicrofluidics, molecular diagnostics, microelectronics, computing software, wireless systems, secure telemedicine mixed with product design and instrumentation is only possible through collaborative partnerships.

Dr Richard Fu, a Reader in Northumbria’s Department of Physics & Electrical Engineering, is the academic supervisor for the project.

He has 20 years’ experience in lab-on-chip device, advanced thin film materials, biomedical microdevices, micromechanics, micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS), sensors and microfluidics, smart thin films, nanotechnology and system integration.

Of particular relevance to the partnership is his pioneering microfluidic and sensing work using ZnO/AlN film based surface acoustic waves (SAWs) and theoretical analysis of fluid dynamics of liquid droplets interacting with acoustic waves.

Dr Fu said:

We are really pleased to be working with Epigem on this project. It has the potential to make a real difference to the lives of thousands of people in the developing world – in fact anywhere TB has a hold.

However, there is a lot of hard work needed before then. I have every confidence that we’ll reach our target.

Epigem products include microfluidic, microelectrode and micro-optic components for water, blood and milk research, including quality, safety control and infectious disease diagnostics.

Its core business is development and manufacture of specialist, technical components which are built into devices manufactured by other companies.

Epigem’s success has been built on R&D-led innovation and an ability to manufacture to meet specialist technical requirements and to solve problems in a wide range of applications.

And now the company is designing and building their own instrumentation for use around the world.

Epigem is keen to develop a robust process of design-led innovation to underpin current and future developments.

Dr Ryan added:

Epigem is increasingly involved in developing instrumentation for healthcare, including rapid diagnosis of TB in both humans and animals, water and milk purity.

Pep will have his work cut out over the next two years creating Epigem’s own brand products for the first time and delivering these innovative products to healthcare diagnostic markets around the world.


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