Engineering an HIV Synthetic Biology Sensor (HIVSynse) Start Oct 2020

  • Lead supervisor: Dr M. Thomas (University College London)
  • Co-supervisor: Dr S. Frank (University College London)

HIV is a disease affecting 40 million people worldwide, with about 85 % living in developing countries where clinical diagnostic and antiretroviral therapy monitoring platforms are limited. There is therefore a drive for cheaper, more sensitive and specific diagnostics for monitoring HIV infection and treatment and that are fit-for-purpose in settings with the highest burden. Synthetic biology techniques present huge scope for the design of highly tailored sensing systems that can couple effectively with cheap, portable devices such as mobile phones for readout and connectivity. In particular, cell-free synthetic biology allows for rapid “design-build-test” cycles that will enable us to screen methods for developing robust amplification mechanisms in wash-free, low complexity diagnostic approaches. HIVSynse will capitalise on this potential and develop HIV biomarker detection and amplification strategies using an in-house (Department of Biochemical Engineering) and commercially available cell-free synthesis systems. Viral RNA and host microRNA detection strategies will be investigated along with the use of expressed, high affinity nanoparticles against viral antigens to enable both molecular and protein-based detection approaches. This collaborative project will be realised through the bridging of expertise at the London Centre for Nanotechnology and Biochemical Engineering at UCL with expertise in synthetic biology, diagnostic development and nanoparticle technologies. A successful candidate will get the opportunity to deliver cutting-edge research at the intersection of synthetic biology and nanotechnology where the student will interface with the broader networks of the CDT in BioDesign Engineering, the UCL Centre for Synthetic Biology, the Department of Biochemical Engineering EPSRC research and training centres (Future Targeted Healthcare Manufacturing Hub, Vax Hub and CDT in Bioprocess Engineering Leadership) and the i-sense EPSRC IRC. The project seeks to deliver diagnostic technologies with significant real-world impact that enables us to look towards a future of self-monitoring of treatment for HIV and other diseases, both infectious and chronic as well as earlier detection in a manner accessible to all.

This project will be based at University College London.

To Apply: https://www.imperial.ac.uk/synthetic-biology/cdt-biodesign-engineering/how-to-apply/