Hi Reddit, We are Sandhya and Hannah. Our research focusses on developing technologies for detecting cancer at early stages. Early detection significantly increases survival rate in cancer patients. However, early detection of ovarian cancer is challenging due to lack of unique symptoms of disease onset, especially since we do not yet have a screening device.

Our research vision is to design and develop a mass screening device for the early detection of ovarian cancer. We have been awarded a Cancer Research UK grant to pursue this research. We are developing what are called microfluidic devices – these are tiny devices that will fit in the palm of your hand which will screen blood samples for cancer specific molecules.

We also work in other areas of biomedical research. I (Sandhya) work on developing specialized vessels (known as Bioreactors) for producing red blood cells outside the body – these cells can then be used for blood transfusions during medical emergencies. I (Hannah), work on minimally invasive devices (mini-needles) and material design to mimic the detection of biomolecules for the detection of infection Today we are joined by Dr. Dan Merryweather our postdoctoral researcher and David Phillips our PhD student who will help us answer your questions.

Please Ask Me Anything!

Proof: https://www.flickr.com/photos/uniofbath/51505768398/in/album-72157711493137863/

Comments: 44 • Responses: 8  • Date: 

michalemabelle13 karma

Will these materials have any other use... Like, detecting non-cancerous growths/diseases?

UniversityofBath11 karma

Hello, thank you for your question. We are working to develop the materials into a transferable technology that can be hopefully used to detect markers of a range of diseases including infectious diseases. The key is to be able to identify molecules in the body that change between healthy and diseased states - this would allow us to detect diseases at their early stages. With our current project we are developing methods to track the changes in ovarian cancer specific protein levels like EpCAM and CA-125 found in patient blood to help aid early detection.

b33nth3r39 karma

Correct me if I’m wrong, but this seems very similar to what Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos fame was attempting to do. Though the tech your team is working on is much more focused.

What improvements have been made to microfluidic detection devices since the Theranos days?

Besides not completely faking the tech of course.

UniversityofBath6 karma

Hello, thank you for your question.

There are several areas of current on-going research in the area of incorporating microfluidics into point-of-care technologies.

In our research we are focusing on identifying and utilising new target molecules that we can use to detect ovarian cancer early and with this we can optimise the microfluidics within the device, the advantages, we hope, will mean that we can use very small volumes which can be collected with minimal invasiveness to patients.

sgch8 karma

What’s your favourite places to go in Bath?

UniversityofBath14 karma

What’s your favourite places to go in Bath?

Thank you for the question :) Our favourite place in Bath is of course our science labs (the best part of Bath!) but no food allowed unfortunately. Our other top places -would be the canal walks (towards pubs), Millennium viewpoint, Sydney gardens and Queens square. 

aGiantmutantcrab7 karma


Would this capacity to detect disease be all-encompassing in scope? Will you be able to detect bone marrow issues as well as sickle cell disease, cancer, brain tumor, heart disease, etc?

UniversityofBath4 karma

Hello, thank you for your question.

Our collective vision is that, in the future, we can adapt the current technology we are developing in this research to help to contribute to and, we hope, detect other diseases.

Cgb091464 karma

How do you fabricate your microfluidic devices? What materials do you use?

What analytical techniques are you planning to use to detect the cancer markers?

UniversityofBath3 karma

Hello there, thank you for your question,

We currently utilising an elastomer call PDMS, which we imprint with a fluidic design. We are developing different devices with different fluidic designs to optimise the flow of the target molecules we are aiming to detect.

We are using a number of characterisation techniques to identify the cancer markers off chip, but on the device we are currently focusing on utilising fluorescence as our signal of detection.

[deleted]2 karma


UniversityofBath11 karma

Is it true dogs can detect cancer and disease? You guys look into that at all?

Hello, thank you for your question. Using sniffer dogs to detect volatile molecules in breath to detect cancer is the subject of ongoing research. But sadly this is not something we do in our lab! - although they would be be great additional lab members! We are aiming to use patient blood samples to detect ovarian cancer and hope to extend our research into detecting other forms of cancer in the future.

[deleted]1 karma


UniversityofBath2 karma

Thank you!

SarahAKP2 karma

Will the microfluidic devices be able to identify what type of cancer is present, or just that it IS present? Sounds very useful!

Also, with producing the red blood cells outside of the body for blood transfusions, will they be a certain blood type or a sort of universal donor?

Sorry if those are stupid questions!

UniversityofBath5 karma

Hello there, thank you for your questions, and there are never stupid questions :)

There is potential that in principal point-of-care technologies could identify types of cancer - at the moment our research is focusing on known targets in the body specifically for ovarian cancer - but biomarker discovery and general screening is definitely areas of research being worked on - recently in the news they announced the Galleri cancer test, which is a blood test that has been developed aiming to detect early signs of cancer.

For your producing red blood cells question, this is a great question, and you're bang on, it will be a 'universal' donor.