Greater expectations from molecular comb

A company in the US is looking for big things from a miniaturised platform technology developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to quickly diagnose disease, analyse DNA, proteins and other molecules.

Knoxville start-up company QGENICS Biosciences is looking for big things from a miniaturised platform technology developed at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to quickly diagnose disease, analyse DNA, proteins and other molecules.

The technology, a chemical separation method and device called the Molecular Comb, is said to have numerous lab-on-a-chip applications, including environmental monitoring, point-of-care diagnosis and post-genomic protein research.

Another application will be for high-throughput drug discovery, which is a method of using small chips to test thousands of potential drug candidates at the same time. The Molecular Comb boasts higher resolution than is available with conventional technologies and can be powered with a simple 9-volt battery.

‘The holy grail in diagnostics is the ability to analyse a raw blood, urine or saliva sample, diagnose the illness and prescribe the appropriate treatment at the physician’s office for pennies per test,’ said Chuck Witkowski, chief executive officer and president of QGENICS. ‘Such a device would save doctors and patients valuable time and enable more accurate, more effective treatment options.’

In the area of drug discovery, the reduction in size means much smaller samples would be required, which translates into decreased product and reagent costs, Witkowski said. Reduced size also allows development of assays – or tests – capable of performing thousands of chemical reactions in parallel, which is not possible with other techniques.

The Molecular Comb has several advantages over conventional techniques to perform screen drug candidates, according to Witkowski. First, the technology requires minimal power, so it allows for quick and accurate analysis of molecules without altering the chemical makeup of the sample or requiring advanced temperature control systems and power supplies.

Second, because of the way the samples are divided into their component parts, the technology offers far greater resolution and preliminary results show that sample separation can be achieved within seconds.

Witkowski believes this technique will cause a paradigm shift in the way researchers and doctors study and analyse processes at the molecular level.

Lab-on-a-chip devices, chosen by MIT Technology Review as one of ten technologies expected to change the world, are projected to revolutionise the drug discovery, genomics and diagnostic marketplaces.

‘What makes these technologies so impressive is a combination of small size, low power requirements and decreased costs,’ Witkowski concluded.