Biosensors are devices that include recognition elements capable of binding to target molecules, giving them the ability to recognize specific molecules (biomarkers). The detection of such molecules in the human body enables the detection of existing health conditions, such as cancer.

Biosensors are made of two basic components: a bioreceptor (or biorecognition element), and a transducer element. The bioreceptor system interacts with the target analyte and this interaction is monitored by the transducer, which converts the information into a measurable effect such as an electrical, optical or mass-sensitive signal. However biosensor use is limited by the need to have them connected to an electricity generator system.


The Symbiotic Solution

The Symbiotic project aims to develop an autonomous electrochemical biosensor that is lightweight, disposable and low cost by using an innovative approach: hosting its bioreceptor element inside a passive direct methanol fuel cell (DMFC). Such an approach will provide an electrically independent, very simple, miniaturized, autonomous electrical biosensor.

The electrical dependency is eliminated by coupling the biosensor to an electrochemical transducer that is capable of autonomous energy production, the fuel cell. Symbiotic proposes a merge between electrical biosensors and fuel cells, combining the advantages of both areas of research in a single synergetic device.

In this envisaged innovative device, the electrical signal obtained from the DMFC is directly related to the concentration of the cancer biomarker in the sample analyzed. The proposed electrochemical biosensor will be completely autonomous, operating at room temperature and using the oxygen present in the air, thereby allowing diagnosis everywhere.


The Project

The Symbiotic project is a response to the Horizon 2020 call FETOPEN-1-2014, and is being funded by the European Union under the Future and Emerging Technologies (FET) programme. The project started on June 1, 2015, and is expected to last for three years.
The project’s objectives are to:

  • Develop and characterize several MIP electrochemical biosensors for cancer protein biomarkers. These electrochemical biosensors are expected to have: i) high sensitivity to the respective biomarker; ii) good selectivity for the target biomolecule; and iii) very low detection limit;
  • Develop and characterize passive direct methanol fuel cells (DMFC), of low cost, and high efficiency, operating at room temperature and non-forced air flow;
  • Determine the MIP biosensors´ accuracy using human samples from healthy individuals and patients with cancer;
  • Integrate simple and low-cost devices composed by the best performing fuel cell anodes and the most promising electrochemical biosensors architectures;
  • Develop the method for signalling biomarker presence in the autonomous biosensor including electrochromic materials, LEDs and thin film transistor displays;
  • Fabricate a prototype of the autonomous biosensor.