2018 Rosalind Franklin Medal and Prize

Professor Molly Stevens of Imperial College London for her contributions to ground-breaking and influential advances in the engineering of bioinspired materials for regenerative medicine and biosensing applications – and their translation into industrial development and medical deployment.

2018 Rosalind Franklin Medal and Prize Molly Stevens

Although end-stage calcific disease of aortic valves was known to be associated with accumulation of calcium phosphate, less was known about its formation. By using secondary and backscattered electrons to distinguish mineralised from normal tissue, Professor Molly Stevens’ team discovered that in the early stages of calcific disease, valves contained micron-sized spherical particles of whitlockite. In the diseased valves, they found these spherical particles became embedded in calcified lesions that coat heart valves.

Her research has also provided ground-breaking insight into bone cell mineralisation and the nanoscale organisation of the organic and inorganic components of bone. She has also performed pioneering studies on the application of Raman microspectroscopy for non-destructive analysis of mineralised and non-mineralised tissues and internal cell structures. Molly Stevens’ team co-developed (with HMRI) the first fully biodegradable nanoneedles composed of silicon, which can deliver payloads within one second directly into cells and tissue – for example, to promote new blood vessel generation.

This technology achieves extremely rapid, safe and effective gene transfer combined with micron-scale patterning capability. The technology also uniquely enables intracellular signalling to be monitored at hundreds of points within a single living cell. Her team has used this technology to map human tumour margins, and it may also be used in cell signalling studies with unprecedented resolution. Stevens has used plasmonic nanoparticles and quantum dots to detect protein biomarkers and enzyme activities with excellent sensitivity. This technology may be used to detect the recurrence of cancer at very early stages.

Her biosensing nanotechnology – incorporated into smartphone-based paper lateral flow immunoassays for easy and affordable diagnostics – has been tested in a serological surveillance of Ebola in Uganda at the point of care. It has also been proved effective for naked-eye detection of the HIV biomarker p24 in under 20 minutes at low femtomolar concentrations, significantly reducing the HIV acute phase detection window.

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