Gastrointestinal (GI) diseases are quite common and can be very severe. For example, GI cancers account for up to 25% of all cancer deaths in developed countries and functional GI disorders bring significant inconvenience in daily life. Since the GI tract is the primary channel through which materials enter and exit the human body, it is also a great location for obtaining useful information related to a number of metabolic diseases. Current investigation of the GI tract or analysis of certain biomarkers usually happens via fecal sampling or endoscopic analysis, which are cumbersome and cannot be done at a regular intervals. Recently a number of smart electronic pills or implants to address these issues have emerged. However, the vast majority of these techniques focus on imaging, either visually with (RGB) cameras or with ultrasound which, while very useful, remain limited to detecting structural abnormalities like cancer or ulcers.
However, functional GI diseases do not exhibit visually observable structural abnormalities. Therefore, there is a need for a class of devices that can detect other relevant biomarkers like GI pH, temperature, oxygenation, tissue impedance and the presence of various neurotransmitters and hormones along the full GI tract in an autonomic manner. The GI tract is especially interesting since it has significantly less stringent requirements in terms of bio-compatibility than typical implants. Hence such devices could be conceived as an ingestible pill or smart electronic implant small enough to be implanted via minimally invasive (endoscopic) procedures. However, the challenges are great. Of course, such devices must provide great sensitivity and reliability, with extreme power and size constraints. Recent advancements in electro-chemical sensors (ISFETs, ion-sensitive membranes, carbon-nanotubes, silicon nanowires, nanopores, etc.) enable the design of extremely miniaturized sensors which can be coupled with advanced ultra-low-power analog sensor interfaces and wireless links.
This PhD will focus on the development of ultra-low-power electro-chemical sensor readout circuits. The candidate will focus on various state-of-the-art sensor types (ISFET, CNT, ion-sensitive membranes, nanowires & nanopores, etc.) relevant for the above described application. A suitable readout circuit must be designed to interface with these sensors, overcoming the challenges (noise, drift, calibration, leakage, etc) from non ideality of the sensors. Once those electronic readouts have been validated, the whole concept will be integrated with the chosen sensors into an extremely miniaturized prototype. The candidate will be able to validate the design in a realistic setting.
Required background: electrical engineer with a strong affinity for analog integrated circuit design
Type of work: 70% analog circuit design, 10% system design, 20% measurements and validation
Supervisor: Chris Van Hoof
Daily advisor: Nick Van Helleputte
The reference code for this PhD position is SE1712-12. Mention this reference code on your application form.