Commercialisation of a novel close-chamber technology for water vapour flux density measurements in skin.
Submitting InstitutionLondon South Bank University
Unit of AssessmentGeneral Engineering
Summary Impact TypeTechnological
Research Subject Area(s)
Physical Sciences: Other Physical Sciences
Chemical Sciences: Analytical Chemistry
Technology: Communications Technologies
Summary of the impact
This case study relates to research that has had an economic and
application impact through the continued operation of a University spin
out company, Biox Systems Ltd. The success of the Company's AquaFlux
device for measuring aspects of skin barrier performance has, since 2008,
- Sales of 148 instruments producing revenues of £1.37million and net
profits of £190k;
- Exports into 15 countries accounting for 82% of revenues;
- Significant reinvestment (£200k) in new product development;
- 3 new full time technical level jobs.
Access to AquaFlux has enabled commercial and R&D organisations,
including health care, household product and cosmetic industries, to gain
better insights into the performance of their products. AquaFlux has been
cited as the "gold standard" for Trans-Epidermal Water Loss (TEWL)
The research underpinning this impact case study was carried out by the
Photo-physics Research Group at London South Bank University (LSBU)
between 1994 and 2007 led by Prof Robert Imhof (Professor of
Photo-physics, retired 2010 and now Emeritus Professor at LSBU) and Dr
Perry Xiao (Research Fellow (1998-2000) and Lecturer at LSBU from 2000).
Opto-thermal transient emission radiometry (OTTER) is a relatively recent
infrared remote sensing technology . Research into the uses of OTTER in
a range of applications, including skin characterisation, was funded
through grants from the BBSRC (95/A3/E/00440, 1995-1998, £30k). EPSRC
(GR/K65027/01, 1996-1998, £120k; GR/L25325/01, 1997-1999, £60k;
GR/L96233/01, 1998-2001, £183k; and GR/M56722/0, 1999-2002, £54k) and the
Royal Society (2000-2001; £10k).
In collaboration with industrial partners, e.g. Unilever, L'Oreal and
GSK, research has led to OTTER being developed for skin water content,
skin pigment profiles, and trans-dermal drug delivery measurements. As
TEWL provides an important index for skin barrier function, and is related
to skin water content, TEWL measurements were often performed along with
OTTER measurements. It was found that existing open-chamber based TEWL
measurement instruments were difficult to use, measurement results were
noisy, unreliable and subject to external influences e.g. ambient
temperature, relative humidity and air movement.
As a consequence, a novel condenser based close-chamber technology for
TEWL measurement was conceived and developed (1998-2000) based upon a
cylindrical measurement chamber, with one end closed with a cold plate,
frozen to below zero degrees, and with the other end in contact with the
surface of interest. Water vapour from this surface enters the measurement
chamber and diffuses towards the opposite end, where it is removed by
freezing onto an electronically cooled condensing surface. The condenser
creates a diffusion vapour density gradient, and according to Fick's first
law of diffusion, the flux density can be determined from the gradient of
vapour density .
Compared to other conventional TEWL technologies, the new condenser
design was found to be easy to calibrate and its measurements were
independent of external environments, resulting in low measurement noise,
increased sensitivity and reliability, as well as good repeatability and
comparability. LSBU was granted a US Patent for the technology in 2000
In 2002, the research resulted in the development of new data analysis
techniques to allow the instrument to perform not only TEWL measurements,
but also skin surface water loss (SSWL) measurements. The research has
also led to the development of new mathematical models and algorithms,
hardware adaptors for material desorption and membrane permeability
measurements, as well as for the measurement of water loss through
fingernails, and in-vitro Franz cell membrane integrity testing.
In 2003, research resulted in a new sensor technology being designed and
developed which further improved the sensor's response to water vapour,
and protected the sensor from potential physical damage and contamination
. In 2007, a new methodology for studying skin water holding
capabilities and skin water diffusion coefficients by combining OTTER
measurements with TEWL measurements  was developed.
There continues to be a close relationship between Biox and the
University, from which the Company benefits. For example, in 2008, the
Group's research resulted in new software that was subsequently acquired
and used by Biox to improve the speed, reliability and ease of use of its
AquaFlux device; in 2010, new protocol control and fast algorithms were
deployed, allowing the instrument to manage data in large clinical trials
and reduce the measurement time.
References to the research
 Imhof, R.E. McKendrick, A. D. and Xiao, P. "Thermal emission decay
Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy", Rev. Sci. Instrum., Vol. 66, No.
11, 5203-5213, 1995. Doi: 10.1063/1.1146151
 Imhof, R.E., O'Driscoll, D., Xiao, P. and Berg, E.P."New sensor for
water vapour flux. In: Sensors and Their Applications" (Augousti, A. T.
and White, N. M., eds), pp. 173-177. Taylor and Francis, London (1999).
 US Patent 6439028 (2000). Method and Equipment for Measuring Water
Vapor Flux from Surfaces.
 Imhof, R.E. Method and Equipment for Measuring Water Vapor Flux from
Surfaces. Patent Application PCT/GB03/00265 (2003).
 Xiao, P., Packham, H., Zheng, X., Singh, H., Elliott, C., Berg, E.P.
and Imhof, R.E., "Opto- Thermal Radiometry and Condenser-Chamber Method
for Stratum Corneum Water Concentration Measurements", Appl. Phys. B, 86,
Details of the impact
This case study relates to research that has delivered an economic impact
through the continued success of a University spin-out, Biox Systems Ltd.
Biox was created in 2000 as a special purpose vehicle to bring to market a
novel, more versatile and reliable TEWL measurement instrument, Aquaflux.
With close and continued input from the Group's research, Biox has, since
2008, continued to invest and develop in what has been independently
described as the "gold standard" device for TEWL measurement .
The Biox Aquaflux instrument is being deployed globally by world leading
research and commercial organisations in the health, cosmetics and
consumer goods sectors, for example, Unilever, Proctor and Gamble,
Gillette, Colgate-Palmolive, Boots, Pierre Fabre Dermocosmestique
(France), International Speciality Products (USA), the Universities of
California, Heidelberg and Manchester, and the National Physical
Based upon the research findings and, specifically, the promise shown by
the novel condenser based close-chamber measuring technology, Professor
Imhof and LSBU agreed to commercialise the technology through a spin out
company. Biox Systems Ltd was incorporated in 2000.
Since 2008, the Company has :
- Generated sales of 148 Aquaflux instruments producing revenues of
£1.37million and net profits of £190k;
- Exported into 15 countries accounting for 82% of revenues;
- Established a sales and support agency network overseas e.g. USA, and
- Reinvested (£200k) in new product development;
- Created 3 new full time technical level jobs;
- Delivered consultancy and training to over 50 organisations on the
science and performance benefits of AquaFlux;
- Provided 4 graduate internship opportunities each year to students
from the UK, France and Spain.
Independent consultants have solicited feedback from users of Aquaflux
. This has affirmed the instrument's market leading position and
performance capabilities. Testimonial evidence includes:
- A senior technologist at Proctor and Gamble stated that they have 12
Aquaflux instruments and have found AquaFlux to be the best instrument
on the market in terms of accuracy and repeatability. P&G have
employed AquaFlux to support the testing and development of household
brands in areas such as baby care, laundry and beauty products. He
further commented that because AquaFlux is built on good scientific
principles, it is the standard reference machine used in P&G and in
European multi-centre trials.
- A second independent consultant with over 20 years skin-related
research experience and a visiting professor at the School of Pharmacy,
UCL, commented that AquaFlux represents the "gold standard" for TEWL. He
went on to state that there are requirements from the Advertising
Standards Authority (ASA) in the UK for manufacturers to provide
evidence to support product claims via Clearcast. AquaFlux provides such
companies with confidence about the robustness of their claims.
- A project leader at LTS Lohmann stated that the AquaFlux instrument is
used in research and development. It is used to measure the quality of
animal and human skin prior to Vitro permeation studies to test
transdermal formulations. The AquaFlux is less sensitive to
environmental conditions compared to competitor systems and thus speeds
up trials and reduces costs.
Further testimonials showing the versatility of the Aquaflux device
"In our Institute we are using the Aquaflux in an unusual
application to evaluate the water behaviour of fabrics and textile
components" - R&D Projects Manager, IFTH, France.
"We are exploring with this equipment the quantification and early
detection of malfunctioning sudomotor neurons in patients suffering
e.g. diabetic neuropathy, CRPS, small fibre neuropathy... which may
contribute to a new diagnostic clinical tool" - Senior researcher
in the Department of Anaesthesiology and Intensive Care Medicine,
University of Heidelberg
Use of AquaFlux has been instrumental in a number of important
discoveries. In a recent example (2012), a senior researcher at St John's
Institute of Dermatology, Kings College, London, commented that the
AquaFlux was selected for a special study as a result of its world-leading
reputation. The study involved 1,302 participants and investigated the
prevention of food allergies in young people in collaboration with the
Food Standards Agency and MRC EAT (Enquiring About Tolerance). The
researcher found that AquaFlux was a highly accurate instrument to
identify levels of water loss in skin as an indicator of food allergies
. The researcher also stated that AquaFlux was instrumental in their
"fundamental finding" that skin barrier properties of 3-month old infants
are similar to those of adults . This finding will benefit the
understanding and potential treatment of skin allergies in infants.
Sources to corroborate the impact
 Report of independent consultants (The Innovation Partnership, 2013):
Contact: Managing Director, The Innovation Partnership (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Provides interviews with 4 purchasers of AquaFlux and their views on its
benefits and efficacy
 www.biox.biz - provides
information on AquaFlux and customer testimonials received since 2008
 Contact: Chairman, Biox Systems Ltd (email@example.com)