Professor Róisín Owens has been awarded a 'Proof of Concept' grant by the ERC. Owens’ research project is trying to find new ways of testing drugs so that fewer animals will be involved in testing in the future
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Professor Róisín Owens, from Glasnevin in Dublin, has been awarded a €150,000 ‘Proof of Concept’ grant as top up funding by the EU’s European Research Council (ERC). Owens’ research project, entitled ‘Exploitation of Organic Electrochemical Transistors for Biological Ionsensing (IONOSENSE)’, is looking into finding new ways of testing drugs so that fewer animals will need be involved in testing in the future.

Prof Owens studied natural sciences at Trinity College Dublin and specialised in biochemistry.  She followed this up with a PhD in Southampton University in the UK along with a couple of postdocs at Cornell University in the USA.   She moved to France in 2009 where she was hired by the Centre for Microelectronics at the Ecole des Mines de St. Etienne to start a new department of bioelectronics.

Students working on the original ERC IONOSENSE project

Student working on the original ERC IONOSENSE project

The potential benefits of her project are numerous. It will be a vehicle for fundamental research in life sciences and the development of new in vitro models for toxicology screening of disruptive agents and the development of drugs to treat disorders linked with barrier tissue malfunction (e.g. mutations in ion channels). Through the use of various cell lines and ion channels, the platform will also lead to the engineering of new sensors and biomedical instrumentation, with a host of applications in medical diagnostics, food and water safety, homeland security and environmental protection.

“In common with all people developing technology for biomedical applications what we want to do is to first of all understand biological systems, then when those systems aren’t working properly diagnose what the problems are, and then finally we can develop new therapies to treat the problems,” explained Prof Owens, who is based in the Centre for Microelectronics at the Ecole des Mines de St. Etienne in France.

“Our particular take is that we look at the interface between electronic components and biological systems – using a new electronic technology based on polymers. These are soft materials that in fact are much more like biology because they are softer, and ‘fit’ better with cells for example. A key example from our work is being able to develop tissue or body on a chip systems where we electronically monitor how live human cells respond to different drugs or even bacteria/viruses that cause disease. Being able to do this well on a chip (like in a test tube but now much smaller and more streamlined), means far fewer animal studies because generally we use animals for testing.

“However, a mouse is not always the best model for a human, so testing drugs on mice may not give us a very good picture of what happens in a human, so if we use human cells or tissues with integrated monitoring this can be a great alternative. So mice/rats or other lab animals will benefit in the short term, but humans will benefit eventually because drugs and diseases will be better understood and controlled,” she added.

Students working on the original ERC IONOSENSE project

Student working on the original ERC IONOSENSE project

Prof Owens was already the recipient of a starting grant from the ERC of €1.5 million in 2011 and now receives this top-up funding of €150.000. She describes the funding as “absolutely essential” as she attempts to go from an idea to a real technology solution which could make a difference.

“As scientists we are trained to have a hypothesis and to try to prove or disprove our theories. We try to make this as relevant to real applications – for example in health sciences – as we can, but we are not necessarily experts in business development, marketing or other skills necessary for a successful business. This grant provides the opportunity to look at the real commercial potential of these ideas,” she concluded.

http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/profile2-1024x680.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/profile2-300x300.jpgDavid O'RiordanNewsbiomedical,European Union,research,Trinity College Dublin
  Professor Róisín Owens, from Glasnevin in Dublin, has been awarded a €150,000 'Proof of Concept' grant as top up funding by the EU's European Research Council (ERC). Owens’ research project, entitled 'Exploitation of Organic Electrochemical Transistors for Biological Ionsensing (IONOSENSE)', is looking into finding new ways of testing drugs...