Sometimes, two voices are better than one. For this FET portrait, we decided to give the floor to two researchers instead of one: Feodor Ogrin, Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter and scientific coordinator of the FET project ABIOMATER, and Tom Myers, Founder & Director of the SME Platform Kinetics.

This is a picture of Feodor Ogrin and Tom Myers, researchers for the Abiomater project.

Both researchers are involved in the ABIOMATER project funded under the Future & Emerging Technologies Programme which is exploring how magnetically controlled metamaterials – engineered materials with properties not found in nature – could be used to improve medical devices and implants, from lenses to tissue engineering, upgrading treatment options for patients. In its first year, the project has created and successfully demonstrated a prototype of microbot that can be used for implementing a range of microfluidic devices such as pumps, valves, and stirrers, directly integrated in microfluidic chips. But what it will bring to society? These microbots are of great importance in medical diagnostics, lab-on-a-chip technology and biomedical applications.

Feodor, as scientific coordinator of Abiomater, what are for you the greatest scientific challenges in this project and how it benefits from the FET programme?

ABIOMATER is one of the first projects in which we are trying to combine magnetic and mechanical forces at a microscale. This would allow us to implement a range of smart technologies that are currently needed in different sectors of economics, particularly in medical treatment and diagnostics. Although magnets are very common in our life, making them at microscale is a challenge by itself. Our project goes beyond this. We are exploring the possibility of making microscopic magnetic machines and devices, that could be magnetically controlled and performing various tasks needed for particular applications. For-example, they can be  microscopic ‘submarines’  traversing a blood stream for targeted drug delivery, or  microscopic pumps and valves manipulating a blood flow on a diagnostic chip. These are quite ambitious targets, both scientifically and technologically, but ABIOMATER is a unique interdisciplinary cooperation involving some of the best EU experts in this field. This, of course would not be possible without FET OPEN, as its main criteria is based on supporting the projects like ABIOMATER: ambitious, challenging, risky… but still realistic.  

Tom, as an SME, how did you benefit from the FET programme?

As an SME it is important to remain commercially focused, and that often means working on relatively “safe” R&D projects. The FET programme allows an SME such as Platform Kinetics to be more ambitious with its R&D and work with a broader range of collaborators in a multidisciplinary environment on very challenging projects. A successful FET project because of its ground-breaking nature could have a huge positive impact on an SME in terms of commercialization and a broader understanding of emerging technologies.

Both, how will Abiomater change the life of citizens?

Tom: So far, ABIOMATER is showing a wide applicability in solving many related technologies hurdles, namely in microfluidics. This is exciting because as a company we have worked on microfluidic medical based diagnostics that could save lives. However, there have always been stumbling blocks around pumping, stirring and cross-contamination and this technology could help solve those allowing the transition of microfluidic platforms to go from academic research into the field.

Feodor: The potential impact of the project can be quite significant. As well as creating fundamentally new technology, the project aims at applications that will have a direct impact in health and well-being. For example, one of the proposed area of application of our technology is medical diagnostics. When detecting illnesses, such as cardiovascular diseases, one has to take special laboratory tests which require significant amount of time just for diagnosing the problem. Our technology will be critical in helping to reduce this time, so that the tests could be applied directly at the point of care. This will not only help in quickly identifying the right treatment for the patient, but in some cases would mean saving lives.

Feodor, what were your objectives in participating to the Fet2Rin training and how were these objectives met?

Initially we did not know about fet2rin but always wanted to explore possible exploitation routes at the end of the project. When our project officer told us about this programme I thought this could be a good opportunity for learning about commercialisation. For a person with a purely academic background I believe it takes a bit of effort to accept some 'unwritten' rules about business and how it works. Having a course, such as fet2rin, really helps to get you started and puts you on the right track. Already after a 2-days of training activities I had understanding of main terms and activities involved, and what would be required for spinning out a company. Getting towards the end of the program I have learned much more and appreciate the difficulties this path can entail,  however I am still very optimistic and feel much more prepared.

Tom, as an SME, what were your objectives in participating to the Fet2Rin training and how were these objectives met?

Our primary objective was to set away sometime each month without any distractions and really understand this emerging technology and how and where it would best be served. The FET2RIN experts really make you think differently and ask some tough questions! It really has helped shape our thoughts about where our technology could gain commercial traction. A secondary outcome for me as a director of an SME is that I have learnt a lot of new (sometimes searching) techniques and made some great contacts. This will certainly help to assess and understand every project/product or opportunity in the future.

Feodor, what advice would you have for young researchers or students interested in a career in research?

For young researchers my advice would be to stay determined and never be afraid of failures that will inevitably happen during their careers. In research we say only 5 percent of luck and 95 percent of hard work. However, if you truly believe in your ideas and do everything in your power to see them through, then you WILL inevitably succeed. 

Tom, as an SME, how important is to collaborate with academia on research projects?

The concept of "outcomes" and "impact" can be totally different for academia and for SME’s. That being said, SME’s would not be able to tap into the latest research and have direct access to experts in that field without collaborating with the academic world. This project is certainly opening up more opportunities than we had originally thought and the FET2RIN programme has helped align our thinking and expectations.