The company is developing an inexpensive microfluidic chip that can rapidly process a single drop of blood in 10 minutes to separate out proteins that act as health markers. The chip was developed by Hood and James Heath, a professor of chemistry at Caltech and another cofounder of Integrated Diagnostics. A key part of the chip is a second technology licensed by the company and developed by Heath: protein fragments called peptides that capture blood proteins of interest. These capture agents are more stable and cheaper to manufacture than the antibodies that are usually used for such tests.
The company has also licensed a large database of organ-specific proteins amassed by researchers at the Institute for Systems Biology. The advantage of the organ-specific approach, says Kearny, is that it will allow a doctor to determine not just what a disease is but where it’s causing problems. If a breast cancer recurs and metastasizes to the lungs, for example, that organ will shed proteins in the blood that could help doctors detect the tumor location with a blood test.
Current versions of the diagnostic technology being tested in clinical trials at the University of California, Los Angeles, monitor 35 blood proteins in order to evaluate patients’ responses to treatment for aggressive brain and skin cancers. The tests require only a single drop of blood and 5 to 10 minutes to complete.
Integrated Diagnostics has not yet announced which diseases its products will target. Possibilities include central-nervous-system disorders such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and brain cancer. Hood’s lab has amassed a database of proteins in the blood that come from the brain and can be used to detect these diseases early and follow their progression.
Kearny says the company will spend the next three years developing its first products.