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Issue Date: 25 April 2020  
  £750,000 dti grant for early diagnosis research  
  A collaborative research project between Mesophotonics Ltd, the University of Southampton and Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust has been awarded a £750,000 grant by the UK Government's Department of Trade and Industry Technology Programme.

The dti grant supports research into a non-invasive medical diagnosis technique using surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS). If successful, the technique, which uses laser light to produce a unique molecular fingerprint of constituents in a tear sample, will lead to near real-time identification of patient conditions. As a result the prognosis and well being of patients will improve and health service costs associated with misdiagnosis can be significantly reduced.

The initial phase of the research will focus on identifying the viral particles expressed in tear film from patients with conjunctivitis – a disease notoriously hard to diagnosis as both viral and anti-bacterial strands produce similar symptoms. If misdiagnosed, incorrect treatment can lead to long-term infection and in extreme cases, blindness. With more than 840,000 cases a year in the UK, successful real-time, cost-effective diagnosis could save the NHS an estimated £471m over 10 years in terms of savings in drugs, laboratory time and the number of patient visits.

The research has been made possible by Mesophotonics' a University of Southampton spin-out company. Using its expertise in photonic crystal design, the company developed Klarite, a SERS substrate, that when used with Raman instrumentation delivers readings one million times more sensitive than previously achievable. Unlike traditional biochemical diagnosis such as culture-based testing, SERS can analyse a range of bodily fluids including synovial fluid, tears and blood plasma and can simultaneously detect multiple biomarkers, obtaining chemical signatures in less than two minutes.

A member of the research team, Dr Nick Stone of Gloucestershire Royal Hospital, has pioneered the use of Raman spectroscopy in medical diagnosis for more than 9 years and believes that the project will result in significant steps towards early diagnosis of a number of systemic diseases and local infections.

"Tear film is of great clinical diagnostic value but in the past there was no way to detect the extremely low concentration of viral particles. The increased sensitivity provided by Photonic Crystal (PC) SERS substrates such as Klarite enables us to separate the characteristic Raman signature from background noise and natural fluorescence. It also provides test-to-test reproducibility, which in the past has prevented the use of Raman in clinical applications. If successful the project could enable the technique to be used for early diagnosis of a range of other diseases including hepatitis, HIV, diabetes and chlamydia."

The project will run until January 2008.

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