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Graphene-based test to revolutionise liver transplants

16 Aug 2022

Scientists and leading transplant surgeons from the University of Edinburgh’s SensiBile project team have partnered with Integrated Graphene to develop a point-of-care biomedical test that will revolutionise the safety of liver transplants.

Integrated Graphene has pioneered a high-performing, low-cost, 3D Graphene Foam electrode, Gii-Sens®, for biosensing. The Scottish technology integration company and SensiBile are developing a prototype electrochemical biosensor to help detect biliary complications’ biomarkers in donor livers. This can predict the probability of a donor liver developing this devastating condition after transplantation.

The use of Integrated Graphene’s patented Gii-Sens® electrode will help to assess the viability of the biliary compartment, and the quality of the donor liver prior to transplantation. Using a small sample of bile from the donor liver, SensiBile’s test will help surgeons to judge liver viability prior to transplantation, improving donor-recipient matching and preventing the development of biliary complications.

CEO and co-founder at Integrated Graphene, Claus Marquordt said

When we created Gii-Sens, it was exactly for these types of applications – a low-cost, portable, fast response and accurate multiplexed platform for point-of-care diagnostics. This is just one of a multitude of research projects that stands to benefit from the improved performance benefits of enhanced Gii performance that is enabling the next generation of diagnostics.
The beauty of the technology is that it can be scaled and reproduced quickly, at very low cost, with no drop-off in performance. At a time when healthcare resource is under enormous pressure, this is a key part of how health outcomes can be improved at scale, so it’s hugely exciting to be involved in projects like this.

Rapid and accurate testing

At present, more than 30,000 donor livers are transplanted annually worldwide. However, up to 30% of the transplanted livers will develop biliary complications, a major factor determining long-term patient survival following liver transplantation. Biliary complications have a large impact on patient morbidity, requiring time, money, resources and ultimately, in the worst-case scenario, a second transplant. Moreover, donor livers are often declined by surgeons for transplant because of a lack of diagnostic tools to judge the overall quality and transplant suitability of the liver.

The new diagnostic tool from SensiBile allows users to accurately test a bile sample at different time points during procurement. The Gii-Sens electrode will react to the test’s unique biliary complications biosignature identified by the SensiBile team and deliver a rapid ‘high-risk/low-risk liver’ message, allowing surgeons to make immediate informed decisions about the viability and further usage of the donor livers.

An interdisciplinary team

The SensiBile project is made up of an interdisciplinary team of scientists from the University of Edinburgh and leading transplant surgeons from Edinburgh, Innsbruck, and Turin. SensiBile is led by co-founders Dr Sofia Ferreira-Gonzalez (CEO), Hannah Esser (Transplant Surgeon) and Professor Stuart Forbes (Medical Director), based at the Centre for Regenerative Medicine within the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Regeneration and Repair. The wider project team also includes Professor Till Bachmann and Dr Holger Schulze of the Infection Medicine division of the University’s Medical School and is supported by Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialisation service.

The project received seed funding and entrepreneur-in-residence support from our Wellcome iTPA team. In turn, this enabled proof of concept funding from the MRC Confidence in Concept scheme (a translational research award aimed at accelerating the transition from discovery science to the early stage of translational science) and Scottish Enterprise's High Growth Spin Out program, which aims to help researchers to take their ideas from the lab to the global marketplace.

Dr Ferreira-Gonzalez, CEO and co-founder of SensiBile, said

‘Our experimental work helped us to understand that the damage that leads to biliary complications is already present before transplantation. By assessing which donor livers have high probability of biliary complications development, we aim to provide the surgeons with the necessary information to make informed decisions.

Hannah Esser, transplant surgeon and co-founder of SensiBile, said

‘Our test will help transplant surgeons around the world to improve the selection process for organs, increase the pool of available donor livers and reduce the rate of biliary complications.

Susan Bodie, head of Business Development for the College of Medicine and Veterinary Medicine at Edinburgh Innovations, added

This partnership between Integrated Graphene and SensiBile, a company which has been proudly supported by Edinburgh Innovations, will benefit both clinicians and patients involved in liver transplant procedures.
The innovative and supportive environment for University of Edinburgh companies has been a key driver in enhancing healthcare provision and delivering economic benefits for Scotland.

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Dr Barbara Blaney

Senior Enterprise Executive