We had a conversation with Mr David Lloyd, Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer of FREDsense Technologies . He provided valuable insights into the drinking habits and culture in Canada, which prompted us to have a discussion on the prospects of our AlcoPatch being marketed in Canada.
He highlighted that drink driving in Canada is a major issue and that methods of measuring blood alcohol levels can often have huge influences on legal cases. He added "any tool which can accurately read out someone’s blood ethanol concentration would be useful. However, these tests would need to be very quick as it would be impractical to have to wait for 10-30 minutes for an accurate reading". This led us to explore two different mechanisms with different response time and accuracy.
We also discussed concerns with regards to the acceptance of the public on the usage of genetically modified organisms (GMO). He mentioned that most members of the public are not aware of the low risk associated with GMOs. This issue has been raised on many occasions during our outreach events and suggests that there is an underlying lack of awareness on the safety of using GMOs.
We had a meeting with Dr. Doherty, the Network Manager of IBCarb . We pitched our project idea in order to get funding from IB Carb. She was very impressed with our project proposal and agreed to fund our project, enabling us to attend the Giant Jamboree. We also received many useful feedbacks from her, which were later used to improve certain aspects of our project. She also suggested that bouncers and bartenders would have great use of the AlcoPatch to measure the level of intoxication of consumers. This would deter bartenders from selling alcohol to individuals who are very intoxicated, similar to to the suggestion put forward by Alcohol Dependency Solutions.
We had a discussion with the networking manager of NPRONET (funded network in biotechnology and bioenergy), Ms Sarah Shepherd. She was very forth coming of our project but advised us on getting our lab work done sooner due to the proof of concept element to our project. She also highlighted the issue of the AlcoPatch becoming a game amongst young adults, an issue which has been brought up by other individuals we have spoken to - Alcohol Academy and the academicians we met during the EuroScience Open Forum and iGEM UK Meetup.
Manchester Enterprise Centre
We had a meeting with Lynn Sheppard, the director of Manchester Enterprise Centre and Martin Henry, an Enterprise Academic Lecturer about our project. They intrigued us with their question on 'how our AlcoPatch (if the prototype is made) is going to be cheaper than current breathalysers'. We could not give them an accurate estimate on the cost of our AlcoPatch as we are currently at the early stages of our proof of concept but we realized that cost could be an important issue, and we later modelled different designs and their relative costs.
Lynn and Martin suggested we investigate whether our AlcoPatch is just a novel idea or a recalibration of existing designs. They also mentioned that we should be cautious about making too much of our product’s science available to the public as it could have patenting issues, leading to our meeting with Andrea Vero, an Intellectual Property Solicitor.
After this meeting , the question on cost led us to rethink our project idea. We came up with some interesting ideas, including using the similar mechanism behind AlcoPatch to detect other chemicals, such as glucose - as in medical applications the profit margins and the acceptable costs could be considerably higher. This led us to conduct a pilot experiment on glucose detection. The future design of our patch aim to have several easily interchangeable detector systems that could be installed during manufacture to measure different chemicals in the sweat. This would allow an array of patches, which measures different chemicals, to be created. Targeting multiple compounds at once would allow us to exploit the economics of scale, achieving much larger production volumes. This would reduce production costs and would create realistic interest for many companies and corporations.
We had a meeting with Prof. Alan Dickinson (Co-director of BioProNET ) and Dr. Jo Flannelly (network manager of BioProNET). They were very pleased with our project but also gave us an array of feedback for us to think about. Importantly they mentioned that one of the substances we used in the Cell-free Mechanism, ABTS, is a carcinogenic substance. Therefore, the Cell-free Mechanism could have marketing issues. As such, if we were to make the actual prototype, we would look for suitable alternatives for ABTS that does not pose a risk to the consumers (
Our Safety Page).
We also discussed about the financial aspect of the patch - 'Will it be more cost effective than the breathalyser?' This question was also brought up during the meeting with Lynn Sheppard, the director of Manchester Enterprise Centre. We then went on to explore this subject area and modelled the cost analysis of our AlcoPatch.
Additionally, they suggested seeing an Intellectual Property (IP) attorney in order to protect and patent our project. This was a new unexplored area of project that we had not thought about before the meeting. Therefore, we decided to contact an IP lawyer and a patent attorney to obtain more information about the legal process that could be involved with the production of our AlcoPatch.
We had the chance to speak to Mr Wojcik, the Chief Technology Officer of SCRAM Systems (an ethanol biosensor company). He says that our product might be more suited for the health services market as our device was more towards self-help. This concurs with what Dr Smith said at the UK Meet up. Mr. Wojcik said that he " [I] could see people wanting to purchase this product if they want to keep track of their alcohol intake and [I] can see medical services and rehabilitation services wanting this product to allow people to become more aware of how much they were drinking". However, he believes that in the US there is currently no demand for such devices. He thinks this could be due to the drinking culture where "drinking is done with intoxication in mind - in effect, intoxication is the aim of drinking".
He mentioned that there are commercial issues with ethanol detection patches - mainly their durability. Some companies claim their patches last for a week or more, but in reality it is much less than. He says that to market something like our product we would need proof of concept. He suggests we look at research done relating to how well alcohol is emitted from various parts of the body, as well as investigating the variation in the correlation between ethanol in the sweat depending on the geography of the body.
We discussed about other products currently or were previously in the market, such as smart phone apps to test breath alcohol levels and skin patches for drug testing in the 1980's. These products had limited success and encountered several problems such as ethanol diffusing backwards in the patch. There was also a problem with the time lag between the measurement and result as the patches would need to be removed and sent off to a lab to be analysed. However, our AlcoPatch would give a real time detection and indication which is very practical.
We had an interesting meet up with Ms. Carley Freidrich from Brightside Brewery , a family run local brewery. She suggested that our AlcoPatch might not be useful to the vanilla student audience of drinkers. This is due to a culture of drinking habits where people might not necessarily be interested in monitoring their alcohol consumption, although experiments with a working prototype may have the potential to show different results.
She also suggested possible interest in the health sector for people with undiagnosed health issues such as alcohol abuse. The National Health Service (NHS, UK) might be able to use these patches as part of an educational scheme to promote drinking responsibly. Carley mentioned that the police might be interested in more active alcohol awareness schemes, and our AlcoPatch might be a way to engage the public in that.
However, she believed that breweries might not find the patch useful, for obvious reasons. Bars, on the other hand, have the potential to be a market for AlcoPatch, similar to what Alcohol Dependency Solutions and IBCarb had proposed. Although it would not be in their interest to limit patron's consumption of alcohol, the patch could be used as a deterrence tool that would stop bartenders to sell alcohol to someone who clearly had enough. This opinion also agrees with the suggestion from Dr. Doherty, Network Manager of IBCarb .