With medical and security professionals in the U.S. and across the world searching for a quick, portable and effective way to screen for the Ebola virus, an American medical device company is seeking funding for emerging technology that could screen for Ebola and a host of diseases within minutes, simply by testing an individual’s breath.
Ancon Medical Inc., based in Minnesota’s “LifeScience Alley,” will pursue obtaining a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s New Interventions for Global Health program, which awards up to $10 million for technology that can prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The “Grand Challenge” program began accepting applications on Nov. 4.
Ancon Medical will use grant funding to further develop its Nanoparticle Biomarker Tagging (NBT) device, a revolutionary technology that provides one of the most sensitive and non-invasive methods to screen for diseases. Funding will also be used to find the Ebola “biomarker,” the molecular signature that will alert NBT to the presence of the virus.
“With viruses like Ebola, not only could Ancon Medical’s NBT technology be the difference between life and death, it could make a crucial difference in preventing and controlling an outbreak,” said Wesley Baker, Ancon Medical president. “Panic won’t protect vulnerable populations from this terrible virus, but technology like NBT can.”
With sufficient funding, Ancon Medical can complete miniaturization of the technology, allowing it to be used in a variety of settings, such as health clinics in underdeveloped nations, border crossings, airports and other settings where early screenings can provide indications that an individual is infected. Plus, NBT can be programed to detect a wide variety of diseases and viruses, including cancer and tuberculosis.
In addition to the Gates Foundation grant, Ancon Medical will pursue other government and private-sector funding opportunities to promote development of NBT technology. With funding, researchers could isolate the Ebola biomarker in two months or less.
The current prototype is about the size of a suitcase, but with further development, it can be reduced to the size of a toaster, complete with a touch screen display and cloud connectivity that can transmit important data about an array of infectious diseases.
NBT uses a technique that is similar to ultra-fast gas chromatography, a laboratory method for breaking down chemicals through vaporization. However, current gas chromatography technology is bulky, making it useful only in laboratory settings, while also requiring hours or days to produce results. NBT is portable and can deliver results in 15 minutes. Ancon Medical researchers believe further development can bring the screening time down to just three minutes or less.
NBT is the most sensitive screening test yet discovered. Other similar technology requires concentrations of up to thousands of molecules to produce a result, where NBT can detect samples that are as small as a single molecule. This sensitivity would allow the NBT technology to detect the Ebola virus within 24 to 72 hours of exposure.
Other screening methods for Ebola and other diseases require samples of blood, urine or tissue, which can difficult — or in some cases dangerous — for a healthcare provider to collect. With NBT, a simple breath test can provide a result within minutes.
“An early screening result for a virus like Ebola gives medical responders the time to isolate an individual, conduct further tests and begin treatments if needed,” Baker said. “NBT can be the ultimate weapon that medical professionals need to fight this virus.”
Ancon Medical will pursue Federal Drug Administration approval for NBT as a screening device, alerting healthcare and medical professionals that an individual could be infected and require further diagnosis. FDA review and approval could be complete in two years, making it possible that NBT could be used in hospitals and other facilities as early as the third quarter of 2016.
Ancon Medical, and its associated company Ancon Research Ltd., has patents on NBT technology in both the U.S. and United Kingdom. Ancon Medical is a member of LifeScience Alley, a biomedical trade association based in Minnesota.