In his lab, UdeM professor Alexis Vallée-Bélisle is busy perfecting a biosensor that patients with kidney disease, heart disease or other chronic illnesses can use without leaving home
Université de Montréal’s Laboratory of Biosensors & Nanomachines, in partnership with Montreal company Nanogenecs Diagnostics, has just been awarded a 700 000$ NSERC 'Idea to Innovation' grant to develop a home blood-testing device for people with chronic illnesses.
The lab is run by Alexis Vallée-Bélisle, who also holds a Canada Research Chair in Bioengineering and Bio-nanotechnology.
His first goal is to get the biosensor to detect three biomarkers – urea, potassium and creatinine – in a drop of blood. People with kidney disease and heart disease typically need to keep an eye on these markers.
Currently, blood testing is a multi-step process that usually requires patients to have blood drawn in a clinic or lab.
“After blood samples are collected in a hospital or clinic, they get sent to a central analysis lab, which is typically located off-site, then the results are forwarded to the doctor and finally shared with the patient,” said Vallée-Bélisle. “Our technology aims to change that, so that patients and doctors can get immediate results as part of everyday monitoring. This will allow them to take fast action if something is out of range.”
Univalor, UdeM's business-development partner, took out a patent last year to protect the technology developed by Vallée-Bélisle and his team.
“Our prototype can already detect blood urea levels – now we’re working on electrodes to measure potassium and creatinine,” said Vallée-Bélisle. “Eventually, the device will enable people with chronic illnesses to monitor their condition daily and send results electronically to their doctors. Healthcare professionals will be able to quickly and efficiently respond to changes in their patients’ condition.”
In addition to the NSERC grant, the project also received $240,000 in funding last year from the Quebec Ministry of the Economy and Innovation.
Eliminating travel time to improve patients’ lives
“We believe that, like diabetics with blood glucose meters, patients with other chronic illnesses would benefit greatly from home blood testing, especially during periods when their condition is unstable," said Vallée-Bélisle. "This more preventative and personalized form of care could clearly improve their quality of life.”
But the technology is still several steps away from being ready to use. Among other things, the biosensor prototype must go through a series of tests to make sure it can accurately detect all three markers. The device’s blood urea sensing capabilities are now being tested in a hospital setting under the direction of Dr. Vincent De Guire, a clinical biochemist at Hôpital Maisonneuve-Rosemont.
Once this testing is complete, the designers and engineers will work on developing a low-cost, portable device that’s easy to use, much like the blood glucose meters used by diabetics.
One clear sign this technology has a lot of potential: multinational Roche Diagnostics recently inked a sponsorship agreement with Nanogenecs to guide the strategic direction to commercialize the technology.
By the time it's ready for market, Vallée-Bélisle hopes that Nanogenecs – a company he founded with four partners and that is also backed by investors in Toronto, Boston and Philadelphia – will have found investors in Quebec interested in funding the invention’s marketing phase.
Nanogenecs is an early stage in vitro diagnostic company with the vision of enabling patients with chronic diseases to better manage their conditions through a platform for self-testing at home that yields equivalent results to the central lab. Test results will be integrated with remote care plans of the patient’s health care providers. Nanogenecs is incorporated in Canada. The team is co-located in Montreal and Boston.
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