A criticism that has been levelled at nanotechnology is that after over $50 billion dollars of government funding, not much of use has emerged – yet. As someone involved on the investment side of business for a long time, finding opportunities that can be commercialised and profitable has been one of the hardest things to do. However, a lot of the development work goes on ‘under the radar’ and the recent concern over Swine Flu has forced us to break cover as we have a technology that can help with this, and future pandemics.
Flu is a very comon virus, and as word of a potential pandemic spreads doctors and hospitals tend to become overwhelmed by everyone feeling slightly off colour suspecting that they have the killer version of the flu and demanding urgent attention. So one of the major problems in preventing the spread of pandemics is in distinguishing between the pandemic strain, SARS, H5N1 avian flu or recently the H1N1 strain of swine flu. Making the distinction isn’t a problem, many pathology labs can do this within twenty four hours or overnight if needed, but someone working in a city and commuting on crowded transport can spread a lot of virus around in twenty four hours, so the ability to rapidly distinguish between Swine Flu and any other kind is of the highest importance.
Earlier in the year we acquired a company working on plastic electronics for lab on a chip applications. We have been developing the technology, and were planning to enter a number of markets early in 2010 with a rapid an portable diagnostic system.
The basic principle of most diagnostic systems is optical. You have an antigen which you bind to a surface and a solution containing a secondary antibody which contains an enzyme which fluoresces when it binds to the antibody you are trying to detect. When a binding event occurs, the enzyme lights up and you know you have detected the primary antibody, but the trouble is that the glow is very faint, so you need to wait a long time for enough binding to take place, or have a very concentrated solution, and both of those waste precious time.
Our trick is to print the entire device in one process – detectors, reaction cells, antigens. This not only cuts the size and cost down, but as the detector and reaction are in very close proximity the sensitivity over normal techniques, which involve an optical microscope at some stage, goes up by a couple of orders of magnitude.
Ergo, we can do on a sliver of plastic with a hand held reader in seconds what it takes twenty four hours to do in a path lab.