Medical devices continue to launch on crowd-funding platforms and the latest one we came across is the QuantuMDx‘s handheld DNA lab, which is currently raising money on Indiegogo. We had the opportunity to speak with their Chief Scientific Officer, Jonathan O’Halloran, about the company, its technology, and his goals.
Shiv Gaglani, Medgadget: What is QuantuMDx?
Jonathan O’Halloran: QuantuMDx is a British diagnostic device company developing a suite of handheld molecular diagnostic (MDx) and sequencing devices to deliver rapid disease diagnosis to every man, woman and child in the world. We’re working to democratize the provision of healthcare across the world, enabling routine real-time personalized medicine with our user friendly, accessible devices delivering DNA analysis in under 15 minutes by the patients’ side. And our rapid whole genome sequencing technology will really take things to the next level.
Information is power and the power of determining disease, pathogen species, strain and drug resistance mutations in real-time extends FAR beyond the patient doctor interaction. First the Internet linked computers, now the Internet of Things is connecting objects. We aim to link the genomes of living things in an Internet of Life that is monitored in real time, providing critical information to epidemiologists and public health officials.
Medgadget: Can you describe the underlying technology of the system?
O’Halloran: For an animation following a fingerprick blood sample through our device to diagnosis, please see this video:
O’Halloran: Upon insertion into the device, the sample is processed and the pathogen DNA (or RNA) is extracted, amplified and detected. These processes occur along one channel, making the fluidics simple, robust & cost effective.
We have invested heavily into developing rapid sample prep technologies, so that our Handheld DNA Lab can process a variety of samples- fingerprick of blood, sputum, tumour tissue, swab, etc. Many diagnostic technologies claim to be point of care, however they simply aren’t feasible as they require hands on sample prep by highly skilled technicians using expensive laboratory equipment and sensitive reagents. Our device is unique in that a frontline healthworker can simply insert a sample into the device. This is what makes it truly mobile.
Once the DNA has been extracted, rapid amplification is carried out. Our proprietary thermocycler is a small plastic cassette, which we have used to perform PCR in as little as 4 minutes. We flow a sample across different heat zones, negating the need for multiple time- and energy-consuming ramping steps.
The amplified DNA continues along the fluidic channel to our nanowire biosensor. This low cost, mass manufacturable computer chip can detect DNA (or cDNA) in around 5 minutes. Each nanowire in the array is coated with target probes. When the sample runs across the nanowire, any complementary DNA will bind to the probe. As DNA is naturally negatively charged, this hybridization causes a change in the resistance of the wire which can be detected by our application specific integrated circuit (ASIC).
Our nanowire biosensor has another potential use. With the integration of some novel chemistries, our Handheld DNA Analyzer becomes a Handheld DNA Sequencer. Low cost, rapid and accurate, this device will be capable of sequencing pathogens all over the world, monitoring emerging pathogen threats and performing pharmaco-survellaince such that we can spot new hots spot of drug resistance and learn about the dynamics of these mutations in populations.
Medgadget: Who do you hope will be using this device?
O’Halloran: Our device will enable any layperson to run DNA analysis. We envision a Handheld DNA Lab in every bathroom cabinet for at-home testing for ailments such as flu and fever. However, this home testing vision will require years and years of robustness and other trial data to demonstrate that it’s safe to perform this testing in the home, so we are initially putting this incredible powerful technology into the hands of frontline healthworkers in developing nations to tackle multi-drug resistant infectious diseases such as malaria, which kills a child every minute. We expect to commercialize in Africa and India in 2015, before expanding into the rest of the BRICs nations, where we hope to lead the way as we think these markets will eventually overtake the European and US POC markets.
Medgadget: Beyond the money what are your goals for the indiegogo campaign?<
O’Halloran: As a result of the Indiegogo campaign, our device has been featured by a number of press publications. We’ve been invited to speak at some amazing conferences throughout the year, such as Wired Health and Bloomberg’s Next Big Thing Summit. And we have attracted businesses looking to partner on assay development or manufacture.
The campaign has really captured the imagination of members of the public, who want this device in their doctor’s office. That for me is really exciting- to have built a community of people who share my vision for the future.
Medgadget: What is your background in medical technology and innovation?
O’Halloran: Following studying Drosophila genetics and then genomics at university, I began my career working in pathology laboratories in the UK. During this time I defined the specifications for a Point of Care molecular diagnostics & DNA Sequencing device, and then built and ‘tinkered’ technologies to realize my dream in my home garage. This early work was the foundation for QuantuMDx’s technology.
After amassing enough data to attract funding, I spent 2 years in Cape Town, working to develop QuantuMDx’s technology in a market that will benefit the most from it. I spent time with frontline health workers, who routinely perform POC Dx, to understand the field. This valuable experience has been channelled into QuantuMDx’s device.
QuantuMDx has now grown to 40 people, with a research base in Newcastle, UK and offices in USA and Singapore. The technology is in an alpha format and a handheld beta device will be available for trials in 2015.
Here’s a QuantuMDx promo video for the Indiegogo fundraiser:
Indiegogo link: The Future: QuantuMDx’s Handheld DNA Lab