During our recent tour of Northeast Indiana, we had the opportunity to visit F Cubed (F3), a startup supported by the Innovation Park at Notre Dame. F3 is developing a portable device that allows for rapid detection of DNA of harmful pathogens in under 30 minutes.
We’ve written about a number of similar lab-on-chip detectors, but what sets the F3 system apart is its biochip technology. F3’s biochip, which is smaller than the size of a thumbnail, allows for the detection of multiple pathogens without the use of expensive and complicated optical devices. According to F3,
…the biochip uses a process known as AC dielectrophoresis to trap target DNA and permit precise detection and quantification in just a matter of minutes. More traditional plate culture methods typically take two to three days, and more moden molecular detection methods can still take at least 24 hours to find target DNA.
The actual devices are pictured above, and a final unit that combines the two devices into one package is expected in a couple months. The left device receives the sample and lyses the cells inside to separate the DNA from other cellular components and also amplifies the DNA. Once the DNA has been extracted and isolated, it is transferred to the device on the right which contains the biochip. The results of the analysis are displayed on a tablet computer on the top shell of the device.
According to F3’s founder and CEO Les Ivie, the first approved use of F3’s device will be for environmental and food safety applications. For example, recreational bodies of water can occasionally become contaminated with fecal matter, due to migrating animal populations or a sewer pipe break in the area. Tests are consistently run on pools and popular swimming holes to make sure they’re safe, however, the tests take two to three days, at which point a person could already be infected. The F3 device will carry out the same test in an hour and can be run by a lifeguard or any trained person and requires only harmless phosphate buffered saline solution as a reagent. For food safety, a similar test can quickly be performed in food processing plants to determine whether a product is contaminated with a harmful pathogen.
The F3 device is currently undergoing approval by the FDA to be used for medical diagnostics, and according to Ivie, an institutional review board (IRB) has approved the testing of the device’s efficacy in detecting MRSA. He hopes that, when approved, the F3 device will receive a sample of blood or human fluid from a wound site, test it for MRSA, Pseudomonas, or bacterial meningitis, and treat the patient with antibiotics if necessary, instead of the usual process of starting the patient on expensive (and possibly unnecessary) antibiotics while a lab culture is being run.