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Developing biosensors that will save lives

In recent years, TNO has been working on the development of an optical biosensor, a device that can analyse a drop of blood to determine whether someone has, for example, an infectious disease. It is now time to move from a proof of concept to a compact and affordable device that can be marketed. Delta Diagnostics was founded for this purpose.

Biosensor technology is based on knowledge that TNO has developed to detect biomarkers – proteins that indicate diseases at certain concentrations in the blood, for example.


The current prototype works well but is still too big and too expensive to produce on a large scale. It is now being further developed into point-of-care (PoC) diagnostic tests. A simple device that can be used at home or at a GP for all sorts of applications. It has to be a small, light box in which a disposable sensor cartridge with a drop of blood can be placed. Within minutes, optical sensors register which protein concentrations are in the sample in order to make a diagnosis. There may only be a single biomarker, but the biosensor can also detect a series of biomarkers simultaneously. In addition to blood, the biosensor can also be used to test urine or saliva.

Delta diagnostics

The development into a manageable PoC sensor is being done within Delta Diagnostics a TNO spin-off founded to bring the device from the laboratory to production. “To arrive at a handy device that can measure quantitative biomarkers, necessary steps still have to be taken,” says TNO's Bart de Boer. “We have just started Delta Diagnostics and hope to bring the technology to the market in a year or two, first in a table-top format and eventually as a handheld device.”

New collaborations

Dutch Optics Centre (DOC), a joint venture between TNO and TU Delft, is helping and supporting Delta Diagnostics to quickly bring these diagnostics to the relevant fields. “We are always looking for new collaborations with parties that have the complementary knowledge needed for the development and validation of specific applications. We are also looking for parties who want to invest in this promising technology. DOC plays a connecting role in this process,” De Boer emphasises.

Quick diagnosis

The biosensor has many possible applications. In addition to the detection of infectious diseases, the right biomarkers can be used in acute situations to immediately determine, for example, whether someone has had a heart attack or a stroke. In remote areas where there are no clinical laboratories or even electricity, the biosensor is a solution. There are many applications – like MRSA, Ebola and the Zika virus, but also the detection of exposure to nerve gas. The biosensor system is, by definition, well-suited for use in situations in which the diagnosis needs to be made quickly and there is no time to get a sample to the laboratory. It is also of interest from an early diagnostic perspective, as in screening for common tumours, but this is still a long way off.



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Ir. Bart Snijders

  • optics
  • photonics


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