4DLab at PharmSci 2019

If you have been keeping up with my tweets, you may have noticed that we were at the 10th APS International PharmSci conference last week in Greenwich, UK.

We presented our collaborative work with Unversity of Surrey’s BioProChem group on our recently published work on microneedle immunodiagnostics, as well as our investigation into the effects of oxygen and pressure on wound healing with Dr Wing Man Lau, Professor Adrian Williams and Dr Kawa Ahmad.

Our MPharm alumni have much to be proud of too. Joanna’s work on microneedle hydrogel coating was presented as a poster, while Arun’s work on a dual-analysis immunodiagnostic microneedle platform for skin cancer detection was presented as part of a podium presentation.

I spoke on day 2 of the conference.

All in all it was a fun and extremely fruitful conference. We look forward to the 11th iteration of the conference in Belfast next year!

Collaborative paper on 3D cell culture for evaluating biomarker-capturing microneedle devices

Update: Author manuscript available

One of the challenges in developing microneedle devices to capture disease biomarkers from the skin is the lack of suitable skin specimens in which to test the devices. Donor skin specimens that carry the specific target diseases simply do not come by easily.

I first discussed this challenge with Eirini Velliou, Tao Chen and Guoping Lian in April 2016. We decided to tackle it by growing our own model of diseased skin in the lab. Experimental work started shortly after, and continued to develop following my relocation to Newcastle University in 2017. Earlier this week, we described the collaborative work in a joint publication in the journal Sensors and Actuators B: Chemical.

We took a grounds-up approach by growing melanoma skin cancer cells in a three-dimensional (3D) culture, supported structurally by a biocompatible polymer scaffold. This allowed us to simulate not only the biological microenvironment around the cells, but also the three-dimensional structure of the skin for microneedle insertion. Importantly, it was a simple and inexpensive, yet versatile, laboratory model to set up.

In pioneering the 3D cell culture model for evaluating microneedle devices against a skin cancer biomarker, we also demonstrated – for the first time – successful capture of S100B (a biomarker for melanoma skin cancer) in situ using our immunodiagnostic microneedle device.

Stella Totti, formerly a PhD student and now a postdoctoral researcher in Eirini’s research group, is the first author. I am especially pleased that hard work has paid off for Lorraine Dale, a former MSc student of mine, who contributed greatly to this work and is a co-author on this paper.

The paper is free to read until 28 July 2019 via this link: https://authors.elsevier.com/c/1ZBcy3IQMPEdJi

A microneedle array biosensor that can detect skin burns

SEM image of microneedle array biosensor

We have developed a microneedle array biosensor that can detect skin burns. To make the biosensor, we devised a nanocomposite material from carbon nanotubes and a biocompatible polymer, poly(lactic acid). We then shaped the microneedle array from the nanocomposite material. The microneedles that formed were about 870 μm long, 250 μm wide, and electroactive. This meant that the microneedle array could be inserted into  the skin to detect certain analytes by electrochemistry. We verified this by using the microneedle array to detect vitamin C in solution. Interestingly, when we tested the microneedle array biosensor on skin burns and normal (non-burnt) skin, the skin specimens showed different electrochemical responses. This gives us the technological basis for a minimally invasive biosensing approach to detecting skin burns.

For more information, please see:

Skaria E, et al. (2019) Poly(lactic) acid/carbon nanotube composite microneedle arrays for dermal biosensing. Analytical Chemistry (epub ahead of print). doi: 10.1021/acs.analchem.8b04980

Welcome, Joanna and Arun!

Last week, I welcomed Joanna and Arun into my research team. Joanna and Arun are fourth-year MPharm students who will be working on microneedle devices for drug delivery and biomarker detection. They are the first project students to join my team since the big move to Newcastle University last year, and I look forward to working with them.

Perspective: The future of skin biosensing and bioanalysis

I recently published a perspective article with Professor Syed Moein Moghimi in Precision Nanomedicine (the official journal of the European Foundation for Clinical Nanomedicine). In it, we offered our views and analysis on emerging techniques for sensing and analysing biomolecules in the skin, focusing on the capabilities and promises nanotechnology brings to the scene.

The article is open access.

In press: Nanoparticles designed to adhere to or penetrate mucosal tissue

Our paper on surface-functionalised nanoparticles and their ability to adhere to or penetrate mucous membranes has been accepted and published online. I congratulate my co-authors on this well-deserved outcome, and hereby present the paper to my readers:

MWays TM, Lau WM, Ng KW, Khutoryanskiy VV (2018) Synthesis of thiolated, PEGylated and POZylated silica nanoparticles and evaluation of their retention on rat intestinal mucosa in vitro. European Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences 122:230-238.

The article is available for free from Elsevier until 29 August 2018. To access the free full text, please follow this link:


In the paper, we demonstrated that nanoparticles whose surfaces were functionalised differently attained the ability to either adhere to or penetrate the mucus layer in the small intestines of the rat. We postulate that the same can be true in humans. This has important applications in oral drug delivery, where the nanoparticles can be tailored to target drug delivery to the gut differently, depending on the desired drug release profile.

The work was led by Professor Vitaliy Khutoryanskiy, of the University of Reading.

Hot off the press: high-throughput skin burn wound model for infection control

Graphical summary

A paper I co-authored with the team led by Dr Brian Jones (University of Bath) has just been published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular and Infection Microbiology. This is an open-access publication and you can grab a copy by following this link.

The paper describes a burn wound model that enables high-throughput evaluation of wound control measures. It is based on ex vivo (i.e. freshly excised) porcine skin that is both anatomically relevant and biologically responsive, and therefore superior to most in vitro models currently available.

I am glad to have contributed to this paper, and am pleased to introduce it to my readers.

Image credit