PORTRAIT OF THE START-UP INVENesis
Incubated by Neode
Founded in 2017
Alexandra Homsy was born in Annemasse (France). She studied engineering physics at EPF in Lausanne in 1999 and obtained a Doctor of Sciences from the University of Neuchâtel in 2006. She first discovered the world of microtechnology towards the end of her studies in physics. She noticed that it was possible to save lives by miniaturising medical diagnosis systems. While completing her post-doc in Ireland, where the manufacturing systems were very limited compared to the equipment at Professor Nico de Rooij’s laboratory, she realised that a very sophisticated clean room was not necessary to develop microsystems. Back in Neuchâtel in Switzerland, she began to work on the industrialisation of medical diagnosis microsystems with Prof. De Rooij. It was at this point that she realised the need to develop microchips for the preparation of “real” samples such as blood or saliva.
She is currently a professor and lecturer at HE-Arc Ingénierie. She devotes half of her time to teaching micro- and nanotechnology and their applications in medical engineering. The rest of her time is spent in the Medical Devices laboratory on the Neode premises in La Chaux-de-Fonds working on her research projects. She works in particular with Sébastien Brun, CEO of start-up SY&SE.
When taking a sample, such as a drop of blood, many different handling stages are involved. These operations require particular protocols and special training and are subject to many potential mishaps.
By using microsystems or “microchip laboratories” we hope to improve:
These microsystems can either filter a single drop of blood, or be connected to a drip system that filters the blood continuously. The ultimate aim of my research is to help develop a microchip laboratory with completely integrated instruments.
I can see two main challenges. First of all, blood composition varies from one person to another. The components of the blood are the same, but their quantity varies, which puts the reliability of the analysis to the test. The challenge lies in proving that the analysis results obtained during a clinical study are similar, despite diversity in blood samples. We work with doctors from university hospitals because:
Doctors are showing increasing interest in microsystems !
Second, each microchip laboratory depends on the final application. In my developments, only the architecture of my microchannels (design, size, positioning of the structures, material, wettability of the surfaces) influences the system’s operation. So every project gives rise to a different chip with a different material and design. Unfortunately, there is no ready-made solution.
I am fascinated by the multidisciplinarity of this field. I work with chemists (interactions between molecules and surfaces and between molecules themselves), physicists (optical measurements of the biomarkers that emit photons), biologists and doctors (practical needs in the field), and engineers (instruments). Furthermore, as the field of microfluidics only developed around twenty years ago, you have to be able to make yourself understood and communicate effectively about the topic. Lastly, knowing that you could improve the life of patients is also a great source of motivation.
I hope that these microchips will one day be connected to smartphones, for instance, to enable real-time diagnoses. This would be very useful in crisis situations or in locations without laboratory infrastructures.
During chemotherapy, the treatment is administered over 24 to 48 hours. The aim is to kill cancerous cells before healthy cells. With this HES-SO project, we made it possible to continuously measure the presence of this agent in the blood plasma. The dosage could therefore be adjusted in real time. The therapy could then be personalised and optimised for each patient.
I had my first experience working as a researcher in Neuchâtel, at Nico de Rooij’s laboratory. But I am equally passionate about teaching and applied research. So I naturally approached HE-Arc Ingénierie to carry out my research. I also work with CSEM and the Neuchâtel branch of EPFL, which offer complementary skills. We all benefit from the existing innovation ecosystem, particularly in microtechnology.
Incubated by Neode
Founded in 2017
Professor and lecturer at HE-Arc Engineering
Born in 1973
Lives in Neuchâtel
Tenure Track Assistant Professor at the EPFL Neuchâtel Branch
Born in 1974
Lives in Bern