GeneCapture Inc. has demonstrated a new process for rapidly determining the genetic signature of a pathogen – a germ-causing infection. In less than an hour, this new, patented technique analyzes a human or animal sample – whether it is blood, urine, saliva or swab – to detect the presence of a broad range of specific bacteria, viruses or fungi.
The disposable test cartridge is about the size of a smartphone. Signature probes for newly discovered or mutated pathogens can be added to the cartridge in just a few days, providing fast intelligence for new epidemics.
“Our team of biochemists and engineers has combined several cutting-edge technologies into an innovative and rugged solution for a very critical problem we face today – the diagnostic delay in identifying the source of an infection,” said CEO and co-founder Peggy Sammon. “During that one- to three-day turnaround, contagion spreads and the microbes mutate, making conditions for epidemics and antibiotic resistance highly concerning. We want the patient to get a diagnosis within an hour and get on the right medicine right away.”
GeneCapture is based at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, a leading nonprofit research institute that brings together genomic researchers and for-profit businesses under one roof to create an environment for the rapid deployment of solutions. The institute is close to the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) campus, where the original idea was conceived and patented. GeneCapture’s chief technology officer, Krishnan Chittur, Ph.D., has been working on rapid infection diagnosis since he endured a suspenseful three-day wait to see if his premature baby had pneumonia.
“It turns out she did not have an infection, but we didn’t learn that until after three days of strong antibiotics had coursed through her tiny body. A few years later, in my lab at UAH, we worked out a fast way to see if an infection was present right away. We knew it was a game-changer,” Chittur said.
Chittur met with entrepreneur Sammon, and together they formed the company, licensed the patent and assembled a team to turn the idea into a product. The original process took several hours, but after Harvard biochemist Paula Koelle refined the steps and perfected the recipe, the company’s prototype now gives reliable results in 45 minutes.
The technology is based on unique genetic probes that capture the genetic material of the pathogen if it is present. Hundreds of probes are arranged on a microarray, allowing them to make a direct match to a broad selection of pathogens. An optical scan identifies which probes were activated, resulting in a rapid on-site or wirelessly reported diagnosis.
“From the start, we knew we wanted a simple, rugged, inexpensive product that could be used in remote applications. Our goal is to keep the entire test cost under $20, and we are on a good path to accomplishing that,” said Koelle, vice president of program management. “Our initial work with patient samples shows that the technology is living up to its potential.”
Koelle met Sammon on the sidelines of a soccer field where their daughters were teammates.
“We have received funding through Alabama Launchpad and a group of visionary angel investors, and we have benefited from the help of several local clinics and the collaborative entrepreneurial environment in Huntsville,” Sammon said.
“Breaking the one-hour barrier, the $20 barrier and the portability barrier makes this a great market creation opportunity,” Sammon said. “We want to get this product in use at doctors’ offices, nursing homes, clinics, field hospitals, airports and cruise ships – all the places that can react quickly to infectious outbreaks.”
The company is now developing the pre-manufacturing model for clinical studies and submittal to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for an expected clearance. For more information on GeneCapture, visit www.genecapture.com. To learn more about HudsonAlpha, visit www.hudsonalpha.org.