Companies license real-time pathogen detection technology developed at Kent State, NEOUCOM

Innovative technology developed at Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine (NEOUCOM) and Kent State University with the capability of detecting bioterrorism agents and pathogens in food and water has led to two licensing agreements.

These agreements bring the promise of new jobs and economic expansion in northeast Ohio and the state.

Liquid crystal biosensor technology developed through a joint research project by investigators at NEOUCOM and Kent State has been co-licensed to two companies, Oringen LLC of Tallmadge, Ohio, and Pathogen Detection Systems of Boulder, Colo., for further development.

Continued development of this technology will enhance the health, safety and economic vitality of Ohio communities and the nation. Each company has committed to bringing research and development, production, sales and other jobs to Kent and surrounding areas, once the technology has been developed.

The liquid crystal biosensor technology is expected to change radically the detection and identification of harmful pathogens. While current detection methods can take up to three days to identify disease-causing agents, this new technology offers the promise of detection and identification within minutes.

The collaborating researchers combined their expertise in liquid crystals and biomedical sciences to develop a device that can quickly detect harmful microbes, such as anthrax or plague. There are a host of potential applications for this technology, including environmental protection, homeland security and medical diagnoses.

Christopher Woolverton, Ph.D., Kent State associate professor of biological sciences, Gary D. Niehaus, Ph.D., NEOUCOM associate professor of physiology and pharmacology, Oleg D. Lavrentovich, Ph.D., director of Kent State's Liquid Crystal Institute, and Kathleen Doane, Ph.D., NEOUCOM associate professor of anatomy, formed the team of investigators that produced a portfolio of patents and, ultimately, two licensing agreements.

This research was funded in part through an $800,000 grant to NEOUCOM from the Department of Homeland Security, a $100,000 grant to Kent State from the National Science Foundation and a Research Challenge grant from the Ohio Board of Regents. Both NEOUCOM and Kent State supported development of the liquid crystal biosensor, and combined resources for two pilot studies.

"The most critical thing we can do as microbiologists in the next decade is to come up with technology that will identify microorganisms in real time. We have created a biosensor – a detector – for bacteria and viruses that will change the way in which detection and identification of microorganisms is done," said Dr. Woolverton.

The biosensor works by placing antibodies into liquid crystals and then introducing microbes (bacteria or viruses that cause disease) which are attracted to these antibodies. Using this technology, operators can identify specific disease-causing agents within minutes. The biosensor can be used to diagnose infectious diseases of all kinds, as well as bioterror agents.

"By working together, across institutions and disciplines, our research team was able to make this technology a reality. By integrating each investigator's expertise, we were able to create a totally new technology capable of quickly and accurately identifying microbes. This new technology can be used in any situation where rapid identification of microbes is required," said Dr. Niehaus.

"The biosensor breakthrough by Kent State and NEOUCOM researchers is a shining example of the power of partnerships and compelling proof of the key role public universities play in addressing public needs," said Kent State President Carol A. Cartwright, Ph.D. "In this case, the public good will be served by technology that both safeguards the health of individuals, families and communities, and boosts the economic health of our region."

"We are delighted that an innovative technology that will ultimately lead to better patient care and better health for our communities is the result of collaborative research," said Lois Margaret Nora, M.D., J.D., NEOUCOM president and dean for the college of medicine. "The liquid crystal biosensor underscores the importance of collaboration among institutions of higher education, and is a tangible result of the ways in which working together enhances the health and economic vitality of our communities."

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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