Immunosensors from CEITEC Aim for Application

16. May 2018

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I like following things through and putting them into practice,” says Dr. Karel Lacina of CEITEC Masaryk University. He is a member of the Nanobiotechnology research group of Petr Skládal, where he specializes in the development of biosensors. Two years ago he obtained a Proof of Concept financial support for a device which could perform early diagnosis of Lyme disease. Even though the project ended, he keeps working on the technology.

A device cheap and simple enough to be massproduced so that it can be used in every practice or even at home. Such is the vision of the biosensors Dr. Karel Lacina is working on in the CEITEC laboratories.

I’m trying to steer things towards practical applicability. A couple of years ago, the Technology Transfer Office arranged a meeting for us with private companies, one of which was the biotechnological company BioVendor from Brno. They liked my concept and were interested in the diagnostics of the diseases caused by Borreliae. However, the device needed to be developed into a product which would be attractive to companies. The road leading from laboratory experiments to an end-product and to customers is long,” says Dr. Lacina, recalling the very beginning of the  collaboration.

It was no coincidence the company was interested in Borreliae. Lyme disease is one of the most common diseases transmitted by ticks. In the Czech Republic alone it afflicts more than four thousand people a year. Patients often have trouble recognizing the first stage of the disease which is notoriously difficult to diagnose. Lyme disease does not kill but in its chronic stage it can severely decrease the quality of patient’s life.

PoC Funding Helped

To verify the biosensor’s functionality and finish its overall development, two years ago Karel Lacina obtained a Proof of Concept support; at MU this type of support is arranged by TTO. “For me it was an ideal type of project. My work puts me somewhere between basic research and putting technologies into practice. At the same time I don’t want to start a company which would manufacture things and focus directly on customers – that is an entirely different kind of work and responsibility,” says Karel Lacina.

BioVendor helped by supplying clinical material. “They gave us human serum which we used to test the prototype. The sensor was able to detect whether the sample was positive for the disease or not. However, we encountered other difficulties so this cooperation ended,” says Karel Lacina.

Currently he cooperates on a similar technology with another company from Brno – GeneProof. The biosensor has a potential to diagnose other diseases as well. That is why scientists are trying to adapt it to a different kind of analyte as a part of contractual research. “Our goal is to provide point of care testing which is, in layman’s terms, testing patients without having to use lab equipment. The pre-screening should be similar for example to pregnancy tests. It has to be 100% reliable, sensitive and, at the same time, cheap and simple,” adds Dr. Lacina.

Simply Keep Trying

When he is thinking about a new technology, he likes to think outside the box. “I studied biochemistry; however, since I started working in the lab, I’ve been developing biosensors, which is somewhere between biochemistry and electrochemistry. And I taught myself some electrical engineering as well. I enjoy doing things which make some sense and I’m good at linking stuff together. It has to be said that if an expert took my device apart, he’d find out they’re not perfect. However, to be used in practice they have to be first and foremost cheap and simple, which is something state-of the-art products of research can’t be, they are always expensive,” says Dr. Lacina.

He is very happy about the collaboration with the companies, they are helping him to steer the development towards practical applicability. “From the point of view of a researcher, who is to some extent out of touch with the commercial world, it is rather hard to follow any research through all on one’s own,” he concludes.

Text and photo by: Iveta Zieglová
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