Alexander Edwards

Associate Professor in Biomedical Technology, University of Reading

Areas of Interest:
With a background in fundamental immunology combined with expertise in biochemical engineering, I am an interdisciplinary researcher focussed on solving current and future healthcare challenges using an engineering science approach that combines a range of fields from biology, biochemistry, chemistry and physics. I work at the interface between academic technology discovery and industrial development and have experience of both fundamental research and the commercialisation of new technology.

The two main challenges I currently work on are the development of affordable microfluidics for clinical diagnostics and microbiology, and the engineering science of complex biologic therapeutics such as vaccines.

Affordable microfluidic diagnostics from Micro Capillary Film and "µMicro" miniaturised microbiology

A major area of research focuses on developing simple devices for portable, low-cost, point of care bioassay testing exploiting a novel melt-extruded microstructured material called Micro Capillary Film (MCF). Because the melt-extrusion manufacture process is highly scaleable, MCF represents an exceptionally low cost microfluidic material.

Our current work has two objectives: Firstly, we are developing a range of devices that can perform rapid tests using standard immunoassay chemistry in different settings, ranging from fully automated bedside testing, to simple, portable manually operated devices for testing in the field. and then be read using simple optical readers such as a smartphone camera. Secondly, MCF is especially suitable for performing the many and varied tests that are used to detect and identify microorganisms such as bacterial pathogens. We are therefore pioneering the miniaturisation of microbiology tests using MCF. We believe that microfluidics will become an especially important tool for analytical microbiology, a new field we term "µMicro".

In 2012 Dr Edwards co-founded Capillary Film Technology Ltd, a healthtech startup company that aims to commercialise MCF immunoassay technology for diagnostic applications. CFT's lead product is a fully automated rapid test platform, which will initially allow faster heart attack diagnostics.

Engineering next generation vaccines: formulation and function:

Conventional vaccines require injection, refrigerated distribution, and challenging manufacturing processes. New vaccines against emerging infections are slow and expensive to develop. This is partly because existing vaccines are typically developed using decades-old empirical methods. I am interested in developing technologies that allow rapid, low-cost discovery and manufacture of fully engineered vaccines against emerging and existing infections.

One example of such a technology is live bacterial vaccines (LBV) based on safe, attenuated intestinal pathogens such as salmonella. These can be genetically modified to carry protein antigens from, and protect against other pathogens such as anthrax or influenza. LBV offer the benefits of oral administration (a 'vaccine pill'), storage and distribution without refrigeration, and simple, low-cost, rapid manufacture. Although much progress has been made in the attenuation of pathogens to develop effective LBV strains, and in genetic engineering to carry other antigens, less is known about formulation and delivery. Yet live bacteria represent a highly complex therapeutic agent, and formulation is therefore likely to have a critical impact on function.

Likewise, human approved adjuvants have limited immunogenicity. Improved formulation of subunit vaccines is essential to make this vaccine class effective against emerging and existing infectious threats.

Experience

  • –present
    Associate Professor, University of Reading