Bioluminescent bacterial biosensors

Lighting up cancer cells

UWE Bristol has been a centre of excellence in biosensor research since the 1990s, with its expertise being applied in a wide range of areas including food and environmental monitoring, and supplying biosensors to research groups worldwide.

Professor Vyv Salisbury of UWE Bristol’s Centre for Research in Biosciences, is using gene technology to develop a rapid predictive test to allow tailored chemotherapy for leukaemia patients.

“These biosensors use genetically modified bacteria that emit light when alive. They can be used to monitor the effectiveness of drugs and to rapidly predict the effects of cancer chemotherapy on leukemic cells.”

The biosensor has been patented and is being used in a rapid assay that will be marketed by Randox Laboratories. Its application will allow patient specific chemotherapy, initially for one drug used in the treatment of Acute Myeloid Leukaemia, but in future it could be used for combinations of drugs used in chemotherapy for a range of malignancies, including solid tumours.

“It is this area that excites me the most,” says Vyv, “I am very keen to try and extend the research to see if we can design biosensors for predictive testing of chemotherapy for solid tumours such as breast and bowel cancer."

The development of bioluminescent bacterial biosensors requires multidisciplinary expertise and collaboration with a wide range of partners. Vyv appreciates that “the research programme has been helped immensely by being at UWE Bristol, and particularly having colleagues with expertise in optics, analytical chemistry, genetic engineering and haematology.

The importance of good relationships with the health service and a strong commercial partner are also crucial for the successful development of new healthcare devices.

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