Partnership Resource Projects

Non-invasive cancer tissue diagnostics by sensing protein interactions inside extracellular vesicles – Photon Force and King’s College London

This feasibility study will explore a new promising application for the PF32 quantum image sensor produced by Photon Force Ltd (PF). The PF32 is a unique, revolutionary semiconductor image sensor consisting of 1024 (32 × 32 array) individual time-correlated single-photon counting (TCSPC) systems packed inside a single chip and offers a parallelised, small footprint and low power alternative to traditional TCSPC systems consisting of a single area detector and separate timing electronics. TCSPC is the gold standard technique for the measurement of fluorescence lifetime, which offers a non-invasive readout of protein interactions.

The PF32 delivered a technological breakthrough, which enables it to develop the fluorescence lifetime analyser for flowing extracellular vesicles (EV) suspensions proposed in this project. EVs are created by diseased tissue (cancer, inflammation, cardiovascular conditions) and are carriers of the originating cells. They can be found in patients’ blood so form an ideal target for non-invasive diagnosis and as a result, are of considerable interest to researchers and drug companies worldwide. If successful, this feasibility study will lay the groundwork for the future creation of compact, low cost point-of-care diagnostic equipment able to rapidly aid the diagnosis of these conditions, disrupting the existing lab test market and leading to a revolution in patient care.

The demonstrator proposed in this project will be developed at King’s College London (KCL). KCL has previously developed a custom fluorescence lifetime imaging microscope (FLIM) using an earlier version of the PF32. This system offers unprecedented speed and quality of measurement of protein interaction in cells and stationary EVs. EVs originate in blood and therefore are inherently found in a suspension and not fixed to a substrate. The chief innovation of this project lies in the adaptation of the existing microscope (KCL) and the PF32 TCSPC image sensor (PF). These will be combined with microfluidics components to create an instrument, measuring protein interactions inside individual flowing EVs. The instrument will form the basis of a future product development project leading to a compact and robust device for measuring protein interactions in suspended fluorescent particles like EVs.

In the short term, outcomes of a successful project will include essential specifications and independent end-user feedback to guide development of a standalone TCSPC camera by PF. It will assist PF in building the expertise and capabilities required for medium-term development of its own commercial microscope system and will create an opportunity to develop collaboration between KCL and PF, providing access to KCL’s world-leading know-how and facilities. The project will also create the key foundations for approaching potential partners to form a consortium for an ambitious development project leading towards the long-term objective of a miniaturised point-of-care device prototype.

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About Photon Force

Photon Force is a recent startup in the image sensing community, building on the EC FP6 Funded Megaframe project and over a decade of successful research experience in time-resolved imaging from the CMOS Sensors & Systems Group at the University of Edinburgh. It’s mission is to provide innovative, high quality, and accurate sensor technology to facilitate research, with an initial focus on the biomedical field. Until now, single photon detection and timing capabilities have only been available as separate, bulky, and low-throughput pieces of equipment and Photon Force’s products help speed up the research process by streamlining these features into a single, simple unit, easily integrated into your existing lab setup.