Frontiers of Science: Harnessing the power of electronics for biology


April 4, 2019    
12:00 pm - 1:00 pm


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Dr. Róisín M. Owens, University of Cambridge, UK

Host: Ronald Österbacka (


Dr. Róisín M. Owens is a University Lecturer at the Dept. of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology in the University of Cambridge and a Fellow of Newnham College. She received her BA in Natural Sciences (Mod. Biochemistry) at Trinity College Dublin, and her PhD in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at Southampton University. She carried out two postdoc fellowships at Cornell University, on host-pathogen interactions of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in the dept. of Microbiology and Immunology with Prof. David Russell, and on rhinovirus therapeutics in the dept. of Biomedical Engineering with Prof. Moonsoo Jin. From 2009-2017 she was a group leader in the dept. of bioelectronics at Ecole des Mines de St. Etienne, on the microelectronics campus in Provence. Her current research centers on application of organic electronic materials for monitoring biological systems in vitro, with a specific interest in studying the gut-brain-microbiome axis. She has received several awards including the European Research Council starting (2011), proof of concept grant (2014) and consolidator (2016) grants, a Marie Curie fellowship, and an EMBO fellowship. In 2014, she became principle editor for biomaterials for MRS communications (Cambridge University Press), and she serves on the advisory board of Advanced BioSystems and Journal of Applied Polymer Science (Wiley). She is author of 70+ publications and 2 patents. She is a 2019 laureate of the Suffrage Science award.

In vitro models of biological systems are essential for our understanding of biological systems. In many cases where animal models have failed to translate to useful data for human diseases, physiologically relevant in vitro models can bridge the gap. Many difficulties exist in interfacing complex, 3D models with technology adapted for monitoring function. Polymeric electroactive materials and devices can bridge the gap between hard inflexible materials used for physical transducers and soft, compliant biological tissues. An additional advantage of these electronic materials is their flexibility for processing and fabrication in a wide range of formats.(1) In this presentation, I will discuss our recent progress in adapting conducting polymer devices, including simple electrodes and transistors, to integrate with 3D cell models. We go further, by generating 3D electroactive scaffolds capable of hosting and monitoring cells.(2) I will also highlight recent research using biomimetic models of cell membranes interfaced with organic electronic devices for drug discovery.(3)

1. J. Rivnay et al., Organic electrochemical transistors. Nat. Rev. Mater. 3, 17086 (2018).

  1. C. Pitsalidis et al., Transistor in a tube: A route to three-dimensional bioelectronics. Sci. Adv. 4, eaat4253 (2018).
  2. C. Pitsalidis et al., Biomimetic Electronic Devices for Measuring Bacterial Membrane Disruption. Adv. Mater., 1803130. (2018)