Dr Al Edwards
After setting out to do biological research and trying to understand the fundamental science of how the body works, Dr Al Edwards, Associate Professor in Biomedical Technology, realised he wanted to focus on applying this science to solving clinical challenges.
To find out how to translate bioscience, he worked in a chemical engineering department before arriving at the Reading School of Pharmacy. In the broad field of pharmaceutical science, we combine chemistry, biology and physical sciences to advance modern healthcare.
"What I really wanted to do was make things, innovate, and actually try and solve the biomedical problems as an innovator rather than try and study the disease on a fundamental level. I was much more interested in fixing the problems than just understanding the science.
I absolutely love my current role because I get to combine all the different tools, tricks and technologies that we have developed to try and solve clinical problems. And because I studied as a scientist, I understand how complex these problems are. My general principle is to try and find very simple solutions that can help solve a real clinical need."
Solving clinical problems
Dr Al Edwards co-founded a start-up called Capillary Film Technology Limited (CFT), which was awarded £1m of investment by Small Business Research Initiative for Healthcare (SBRI).
The work CFT does could revolutionise the treatment of patients in A&E departments with heart attack symptoms. But research at Reading recently showed the same 'miniature test tubes' can also be used for testing for antibiotic resistance in a lab on a stick, which is up to 12 times quicker than current microbiological tests.
"What I'm really excited about at the moment is that we've developed a prototype product for heart attack testing, but the same technology could be used for many different applications. We've gone from having an idea, showing the idea works in the lab, building a prototype of the final product, and the next stage is to test that prototype with human samples, that's why we're working with the local hospital, the Royal Berkshire Hospital, to see whether we can test our device and see how useful it could be in an NHS A&E Department."
tackling global health challenges
The heart attack detection prototype that Dr Al Edwards and CFT have created is designed to fit within an advanced health system, but the same testing technology could be used to tackle different challenges across the world.
Dengue fever has been spreading rapidly over the past few decades, and is a threat to over half of the world's population. Dr Al Edwards has identified that the CFT technology is particularly suited to the diagnosis of the disease.
"At the moment we are building new collaborations to try and use our diagnostic testing technology to combat a really serious disease called Dengue fever, a viral infection spread by mosquitoes in tropical regions. There's no vaccine, no treatment, and a proportion of infected people will develop very severe disease or even die, often children. We hope to develop a new rapid test that would help track the number of cases and spot the infection early so that patients can be treated better."
Research that feeds into teaching
Some of Dr Al Edwards' teaching is related to his research, so students can supplement their core pharmacy studies with glimpses of new technology and medicines of the future.
He also tries to give students the opportunity to think about the varied and diverse careers in industry or innovation wherever possible, as not everyone realises pharmacy is not only a clinical discipline but one where you can go on and make a change to the healthcare industry through research or enterprise.
"For pharmacy students, one of their great opportunities is to work in R&D within the pharmaceutical industry so we aim to try and open students' eyes to the many opportunities in the future. Their pharmacy degree provides a foundation in applied pharmaceutical sciences, that can be used in industry as well as working as a pharmacist in the NHS."