We at UppSense are a team of motivated students from a variety of backgrounds with the goal of developing a biosensor. Our logo tries to capture this diversity in the team and this unifying goal of ours. The laboratory flask represents the chemistry involved in the project and is a universal symbol for the practical aspects of our work. The neck of the flask ends in the shape of an antibody symbolizing the seamless transition between the sciences of biology and chemistry. Both elements work together intending to detect the quadratic analyte. In the context of this year΄s competition, it shows our efforts of detecting the epilepsy medication valproate with a biosensor.
What is the theme for 2020?
This year we are challenged to build a biosensor able to quantify an anti-epileptic drug. The importance of monitoring one of the drugs given to people suffering from epilepsy is huge, for two main reasons:
- Often there is a non-linear relation between the administered dose and the blood drug concentration
- There is a high inter-individual variability
What do you know about Epilepsy?
Epilepsy is one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases along with Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease. About 1% of the population is diagnosed and is mainly prevalent in elderly people.
The main characteristic of epilepsy is the so-called epileptic seizures, which spontaneously occur, causing periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness. Brain dysfunctions stimulate neuronal excitations abnormally (i.e. communication between neurons through electrical impulses and neurotransmitters) . This manifests in receiving cerebral nerve cells being activated in an uncontrolled manner. An indirect outcome of the undesired stimulation could be physical injuries such as bruises or broken bones.
In many cases, the cause of epilepsy remains unrecognizable. It is usually understood as a multidimensional disease where genetics and other acquired traits such as trauma and infection are included in the onset of epilepsy .
Nowadays, epilepsy is diagnosed by electroencephalogram and neuroimaging in order for people to start the right medication as soon as possible.
A very important drug for the treatment of epilepsy is valproate (VPA), an organic compound. Its anticonvulsant properties were presented in 1962 for the first time. After going through regulatory clinical trials , the drug was approved by FDA and was released in the market in 1981 under the name of Depakene.
VPA has a great impact on epilepsy, since it can cease seizures or dramatically reduces their severity. VPA is rapidly absorbed by the patients’ gut, while it is thoroughly metabolized by the liver . In the blood, VPA is found either in a free state or bound to albumin or other proteins . Only the free state can be transferred to the brain due to the action of the blood-brain barrier.
It is crucial patients should take the right doses of VPA at the correct intervals of time. On the one hand, VPA in high concentrations could be toxic for the patient while at slightly high concentrations could cause some side effects such as nausea or vomiting. On the other hand, a low concentration of VPA would not be effective to cease the epileptic seizures. Monitoring VPA’s concentration accurately at home, using a drop of blood, is a dream for those patients that suffer from epilepsy. This user friendly monitor, which could be achieved through a biosensor, would allow them to be in the correct therapeutic window of the medication and dramatically decrease the effect of epilepsy in their lives.
 “Seizures and Epilepsy: An Overview for Neuroscientists.” [Online]. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4448698/.
 “The gut microbiome and epilepsy.” [Online]. Available: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6604367/.
 T. Tomson, D. Battino, and E. Perucca, “The remarkable story of valproic acid,” The Lancet Neurology, vol. 15, no. 2, p. 141, Feb. 2016.
 “Valproate | C8H15O2- – PubChem.” [Online]. Available: https://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/compound/Valproate#section=MeSH-Pharmacological-Classification.
 “Valproic acid – DrugBank.” [Online]. Available: https://www.drugbank.ca/drugs/DB00313.