Military awards Alabama’s GeneCapture $1 million contract to develop portable disease detector

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The Department of Defense has awarded Huntsville’s GeneCapture a $1 million, two-year contract to develop a portable device that war fighters can use to identify disease-causing germs.

The Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) contract is from the DOD’s Joint Science and Technology Office for Chemical and Biological Defense.

GeneCapture, a resident associate company at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, has developed a “gene signature matching platform” that screens for hundreds of pathogens in less than one hour. The multi-pathogen test is conducted using a small, inexpensive disposable cartridge and can be used to test samples from humans and animals. The technique is being evaluated as a possible solution for a portable infection diagnostic device for use in forward deployed military operations.

GeneCapture is collaborating on this contract with Birmingham’s Southern Research, which will provide its expertise in infectious diseases, purifying genetic material for testing and designing clinical trials for the Food and Drug Administration.

“It has been a dream of mine to bring this technology to market so that critical diagnostic decisions can be made quickly, which will save lives,” said Krishnan Chittur, chemical engineering professor emeritus at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and co-founder of GeneCapture. The original discovery was patented by UAH and exclusively licensed to GeneCapture.

Krishnan Chittur, Ph.D., CTO of GeneCapture, and Art Tipton, Ph.D., President and CEO of Southern Research. The Huntsville company and Birmingham-based research institute will work together on a device to quickly identify diseases for the U.S. military. (contributed)

Chittur said the technology uses genetic probes to capture the “signature” of germs. An optical scan identifies which germ is present and produces a result in about 45 minutes.

“It’s a completely new technique that would have been impossible without the advances in genetics and genomics discoveries of the last decade,” he said. “That is one of the reasons we are located at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology – the research that’s happening here is cutting-edge.”

Paula Koelle, chief scientist at GeneCapture and principal investigator for the STTR Phase II contract, will lead the effort to produce the disposable cartridges and desktop analyzer for a set of pathogens selected by the DOD that present potential biological threats to the war fighter.

The resulting technology could have uses beyond the battlefield.

The portable platform could enable civilian applications, such as rapid infection diagnosis in schools, urgent care clinics, doctors’ offices, nursing homes, veterinary clinics, cruise ships and airports.

Southern Research’s proven track record supporting new platforms for detecting and preventing newly emerged and highly dangerous and infectious disease pathogens made the nonprofit the perfect partner on the project.

“The opportunity to work closely with GeneCapture is a perfect match for Southern Research,” said Art Tipton, Southern Research president and CEO. “We have a history of reaching out to the life sciences community, which benefits both our state economy and the global healthcare industry. Our infectious disease scientists will produce reference tests and accelerate the clinical testing of GeneCapture’s new platform.”

Working for the DOD drives home the sense of urgency when it comes to disease-causing germs around the world.

“GeneCapture is focused on reducing the risk we all have of being infected from emerging pathogens and global pandemics – the clock is ticking,” said GeneCapture CEO and co-founder Peggy Sammon. “The GeneCapture team is working diligently to bring an affordable, portable solution to this critical problem by connecting with disease experts around the world to incorporate their needs into this product.”

Republished with permission from the Alabama NewsCenter.

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