30-04-2021 | | By Robin Mitchell
Recently, HexagonFab raised £1.9 million to continue developing its novel technology for performing biochemical scans using portable equipment. So what is a bio-FET, what has the HexagonFab developed, and how can their developments help the pharmaceutical industry?
A Bio-FET is a field-effect transistor that replaces the electrical gate of a FET with bio-receptors. The bio-receptors are designed to react with specific biomolecules, and when binding occurs, charges are redistributed in the bio-receptors. This change in charge distribution results in the creation (or destruction), of the channel below the bio-receptors thereby adjusting the conductivity of the bio-FET.
Bio-FETs have been produced for decades (dating back to the 1970s), and the development of Bio-FETs also led to the development of other FETs such as gas sensor FETs (GSFET), pressure FETs (PRESSFET), and immunologically modified FETs (IMFET).
HexagonFab is a company based in Cambridge (United Kingdom), and specialises in the development of biomolecular detection. Currently, most protein analysis is done using optical methods (such as chromatography and spectroscopy), and this method provides extremely accurate results. However, such methods are also costly, limiting the ability for biomolecular detection to specialised laboratories.
Since high accuracy is not always required, HexagonFab has been working on a prototype biomolecular detection system that utilises microchips with Bio-FETs. The idea behind the project is to develop a portable solution that reduces the cost of biomolecular scans (specifically, protein).
The latest specifications of the device developed by HexagonFab are sensitive to nanomolar samples, have an operating temperature range of 10°C to 30°C, and can detect proteins, antibodies, small molecules, and DNA and can offer concentration measurements. The Bio-FET sensor used in the device has a single atomic layer of graphene that provides separation and charge carrying layer for the receptors that bind to proteins.
Recently, HexagonFab raised £1.9 million in funding to continue the development of their portable biomolecular sensor. Furthermore, the company has also secured £500K in grants from various sources which puts the total funding at £2.4 million.
“Regarding the technology, we are currently at prototype stage and have already engaged potential customers that are testing our tools in the UK, Germany, Switzerland and the US. Looking ahead the territories with the highest potential for us are the UK, US, European biotechnology hubs such as Germany, France and Switzerland, and China.” - Co-founder and director Christoph von Bieberstein
While the sensor's accuracy may not be as great as that of optical systems, the comparatively low cost and portable nature allow for rapid testing of a range of biomarkers with results available same-day (unlike laboratories which can take days to weeks).
One application that HexagonFab has noted in particular is the ability to measure antibody-antigen kinetics. Specifically, when testing new drugs and compounds, it is important to see how the human body reacts, and this can be done by measuring antibodies and antigens. In addition, since optical systems are expensive and take a long time, the use of a portable device can provide researchers with real-time data on samples.
Such equipment is the first stepping stone to producing testing equipment usable by the masses at home. As a result, the future of medicine could see individuals taking their own blood tests at home thereby reducing the chance of infection spreads in hospitals and providing long-term medical data that could be used to drive future AI diagnosis systems.