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A biosensor for the rapid detection of antibiotic resistant tuberculosis in nomadic African populations

This research project is part of the GW4 Biomed MRC DTP. Usually the projects which receive the best applicants will be awarded the funding. Find out more information and how to apply.

Application deadline: 23 November 2018
Start date: October 2019

Research theme: Infection, Immunity and Repair


Tuberculosis (TB) infects one third of the worlds population. It is difficult to diagnose and the emergence of antibiotic resistant variants of the bacterium means that the correct treatment need to start as soon as possible.

Current methods, where available, can take weeks to generate a result by which time patients in remote areas have long since moved out of the range of mobile phones. This is particularly true of nomadic populations such as the bush people of Namibia in whom the incidence of TB is relatively high.

A multidisciplinary team of engineers, biologists and clinicians from the universities of Cardiff, Bath and Namibia (UNAM) are working to develop a portable, low cost, easy to operate, assay capable of identifying the pathogen and of determining its antibiotic sensitivity in minutes to facilitate same day treatment. Over the course of four joint PhD studentships between the Schools of Engineering and Pharmacy we have developed a prototype bench top system which uses microwaves and magnetic beads to capture pathogen specific DNA signature in clinical samples and deliver them to a pathogen specific sensor.

Project aims and method

To transition this approach to the real world we need to address two major challenges, clinical sample processing and the transport of target DNA to the sensor. To achieve these aims we propose the following research activities;

  • Year one: The student will design (computer modelling) and manufacture (3D printer) a series of sample processing modules which maximise microwave mediated pathogen disruption and the recovery of DNA loaded magnetic beads (School of Engineering and Bath). The design process will be informed by input from clinical colleagues (UNAM). Training in microbiological and molecular methods will also be undertaken (School of Pharmacy).
  • Year two: Laboratory studies (School of Engineering and Pharmacy) - Simulated clinical samples and a harmless bacterial TB simulant (M.smegmatis) will be used by the student to assess the impact of microwave power, sample consistency, magnetic bead dispersion and recovery on system sensitivity.
  • Year three: The student will optimise the transport of target DNA from the sample module to the sensor by continuing the development of our on-chip magnetic nanoparticle-assisted microfluidic system (Bath). Finally they will determine the overall efficiency of the integrated system.


To take full advance of this opportunity we are looking to recruit an individual with an engineering/physics background who is interested in expanding there research horizons to include the life sciences. Thus in addition to advancing the development of this much need assay we will, through targeted training, develop an individual with a skill set equipped to address future biomedical challenges.


Professor Les Baillie

Professor Les Baillie

Professor of Microbiology

+44 (0)29 2087 5535
Professor Adrian Porch

Professor Adrian Porch


+44 (0)29 2087 5954


Dr Despina Moschou,University of Bath.

Programme information

For programme structure, entry requirements and how to apply, visit the Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences programme.

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