WisBusiness: SPIDR technology spins disease-detecting web

By Peter Ladwig

For WisBusiness.com

A Madison-area company will soon be marketing an improved technology that may help doctors better detect infectious agents and diseases in people.

Genostx LLC of Middleton is a newly formed company that promotes the new technology named SPIDR, short for Spiral Isothermal DNA Replication.

Thanks to SPIDR, Genostx was named one of the 50 semifinalists in the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest. First prize for the contest is worth $50,000.

Tom Shoenfeld, president of Genostx, said SPIDR is “a very versatile technology” and that “it can detect every infectious agent.” This includes mutations in human genes that may lead to cancer.

SPIDR is an improvement of the polymerase chain reaction, which exponentially amplifies a specific segment of DNA.

Dr. Abhey Vats, researcher and inventor of SPIDR, said the technology might replace PCR because it “tends to work even faster and uses minimal or very low cost equipment.”

“The technology would be potentially useful in a wide variety of applications, including point of care diagnostics for infectious and genetic diseases,” he added.

Point-of-care diagnostics means SPIDR results would be available at the clinic where the test was administered. Many current tests require shipping out samples and waiting several days for the results.

“The goal of the project is to put the test in the hands of a nurse at the clinic,” Shoenfeld said, “It will be as simple as a home pregnancy test.”

“PCR can replicate a mutated gene of interest. You can find out if a person carries a disease or not,” said Patrick Masson, a genetics professor at UW-Madison.

Masson said the PCR assay requires several biochemicals and temperature changes. Most polymerases, the chemical responsible for DNA replication, stop working at high temperatures, however.

“Polymerase is dead at 94 degrees Celsius (just under the temperature of boiling water),” Masson said. He said to keep the reaction going, you need to add more polymerase each time DNA strands are replicated, which is time-consuming and inefficient.

“It’s way too much work to keep adding polymerase at every cycle,” Masson said.

But he added that scientists have found heat-resistant polymerases in bacteria that live in hot springs. Using these polymerases in PCR is more efficient and produces more accurate results.

Like polymerase chain reaction, SPIDR also uses heat resistant polymerases. These polymerases, however, were isolated from viruses that grow in the hot springs at Yellowstone National Park, Wyo.

A U.S. application patent has been filed for SPIDR and the process and will need to undergo FDA testing. Shoenfeld said that he anticipates FDA clearance in three to four years.

In the meantime, Genostx is working on developing new point-of-care devices that will allow for accurate and understandable readouts of results anywhere.

Shoenfeld said point-of-care devices may help personalize the medicines taken by different people. Certain drugs work better on certain people, so a device may be able to scan a person’s DNA and tell a doctor what medicine will work best.

The company is currently receiving revenue for this research though the founders’ equity and federal grants. The company is only months old, so it has yet to seek funding from angel investors. But Shoenfeld said Genostx will be looking into other funding in the near future.

Shoenfeld said the SPIDR test may cost around $20 to $50, but the final price will depend on the cost of development.

— Ladwig is a student in the Department of Life Sciences Communication at the UW-Madison.

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