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Duke spinout wins NSF grant to commercialize disruptive diagnostic method

By Jesse Schwartz
Published: August 9th, 2017

A Duke University start-up is looking to disrupt the point-of-care diagnostics industry by taking advantage of a feature that’s typically considered a defect: surface roughness.

Some diagnostic methods use piezoelectric materials, which create an electric current when strained or vibrated. When the frequency of the vibrations changes because molecules are stuck to the surface, scientists can detect the specific antibodies or proteins that signify a certain disease.

However, current piezoelectric devices rely on manufacturing practices that produce a perfectly smooth surface because roughness can disturb the measurements. This constraint has kept these tests from being adopted in clinical diagnostics, even though they could be used as portable, highly sensitive tools.

Zehra Parlak, a former postdoctoral researcher at Duke, set out to solve this issue by introducing a specially tailored type of roughness to the diagnostic process. Her idea was to use tiny microchannels to multiply the surface area that biomarkers can latch onto by 1,000 times and to change the way that the vibration reacts to blood.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Parlak’s start-up Qatch Technologies a one-year, $225,000 Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) award to advance the technology.

“What sets our device apart from anything done before is the way these sensors are fabricated –the material, the design and the size,” says Parlak. “By getting all of the applied physics and modeling right, we’re able to characterize extremely small volumes of liquid.”

Qatch’s first target will be blood coagulation to help surgeons know whether or not an incision will clot before the procedure is over. Parlak hopes to eventually move into the broader field of detecting biomarkers for diagnosis.

“This is a platform technology that could be used to detect a wide variety of diseases and conditions,” says Stefan Zauscher, a professor at Duke and co-inventor of the technology. “All of the details have been demonstrated in the laboratory and are well understood through computer models. This [NSF] grant will help Zehra put them together into a palm-sized prototype.”

Source: WRAL

Posted under: Tech Transfer e-News

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