Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) is one of the most widely used techniques in biological research and testing, allowing researchers to amplify and identify even small quantities of DNA or RNA. It serves a wide variety of uses, from genetic testing to infectious disease identification to forensics. Thermal cyclers, the machines that run PCR, are a staple in research laboratories. However, they are also large and expensive.
Biomeme hopes to expand those limitations. The Philadelphia-based company started in 2013 with one simple but powerful idea. “We wanted to empower anyone, a lay person, a researcher, a clinician, whomever it may be,” says Max Perelman, co-founder and Business Lead, to “power a central lab in the palm of their hand.”
Perelman and his two co-founders, Marc DeJohn and Jesse vanWestrienen, now Biomeme’s Engineering Lead and Biology Lead, respectively, began making prototypes in vanWestrienen’s mother-in-law’s basement. Perelman pitched the idea to various investors before hearing about and applying to the DreamIt Health incubator. They were accepted, but there was one problem. “I was in the Monterey Bay area,” Perelman recalls, “Jesse was in Albuquerque, Marc was in Santa Fe, and DreamIt is in Philadelphia.” Within one days’ notice of their acceptance, all three decided to commit fully to Biomeme, quitting their jobs and moving their families into the same house in Philadelphia. Since then, the company has grown to about thirty people.
To use the Biomeme PCR system, a crude sample is first processed using an M1 Sample Prep Test Kit, which allows researchers to extract DNA or RNA in about one minute. The processed samples are then transferred to a shelf-stable Biomeme Go-Strip, a 3-well strip that is standard in PCR reactions, and is directly placed into a small, portable thermal cycler docked with an iPhone. The user controls thermal cycling reactions with the Biomeme mobile app, and data is automatically synced to the Biomeme online portal for access anywhere.
One of the biggest advantages to Biomeme is its flexibility. There are nearly 300 available M1 Sample Prep Test Kits with the ability to extract viral, bacterial, or animal DNA and RNA from different type samples. These include environmental and industrial process water, arthropods, tissue, transport media, blood, urine, or nasopharyngeal swabs – just to name a few. As Perelman says, “With all of our developers and partners – you name it, and we have folks using the sample prep to extract [it].”
The flexibility lends itself to a variety of applications. “Hundreds of different groups have been using our system, for applications as wide as high school students collecting ticks across the US and speciating [them] and testing for Lyme-related pathogens,” says Perelman, “to folks looking for endangered and invasive fish species in waterways.” He points out that Biomeme is also particularly helpful in international research, when samples cannot be transported across borders to be analyzed.
Biomeme’s current focus is on time-sensitive or location-sensitive applications. “We work with lots of different partners to empower them to meet their use case needs through our platform,” Perelman says. The Biomeme team tailors their system to work in applications as varied as defense, manufacturing and supply chain, quality control testing, field research, regulatory testing, and environmental invasive species detection.
Another advantage of Biomeme is its cloud-based data storage and access. Imagine “an organization with teams of users, and they have multiple devices — dozens and dozens of devices — deployed,” Perelman describes. “The teams can work together and share protocols and test results across the devices, and then users centrally can be managing all of their results and comparing results across the devices.”
The “two3” thermocycling device and included iPhone SE costs $3,995, and M1 Sample Prep Test Kits are sold separately based on researcher needs. While that may seem steep, it represents the convenience, flexibility, and speed with which the Biomeme system can process a sample. According to Perelman, “[the system] ultimately costs the same as collecting a sample and sending it to a central lab. But instead of waiting days to weeks to get the results, [users] are getting them in less than an hour.”
Biomeme is currently being used in research applications only. In the near future, however, the team hopes to obtain FDA approval for use as a tool for medical diagnostics.
Clearly, Biomeme has come a long way since the days of operating in a basement. “Suffice to say, we do not live together anymore,” quips Perelman.
To learn more, check out the Biomeme website…