The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) has received a U.S. patent for a diagnostic technology that can rapidly and accurately screen for organisms such as bacteria and other infectious agents. Lighthouse Biosciences, Inc., a Rochester-based life sciences company, is the exclusive worldwide license holder of the technology.
The company’s technology platform – called NanoLantern – is a novel method of identifying genetic sequences from biological samples, a process that can be used to detect any organism or genetic feature by identifying its unique DNA fingerprint. The NanoLantern consists of an array of DNA probes that can be programmed from a database of known genetic signatures to simultaneously screen for multiple individual targets using a single sample of blood, urine, cells, or other substance with organic content. The U.S. patent is being awarded for the process the technology uses to identify DNA sequences. The method, first developed by University of Rochester scientists in 2003, promises to be faster and more precise than other existing models.
“This patent represents an important milestone in developing the company’s intellectual property portfolio,” said Rand Henke, CEO of Lighthouse Bioscience. “It addresses a breakthrough method that will allow the company to design and make at a low cost a very wide range of probes for the detection of most pathogens.”
The company is in the process of developing a prototype that consists of a series of disposable biosensor cartridges – or labs on a chip – that will be housed in a workstation that can be deployed in hospitals, doctor’s offices, nursing homes, or any other health care setting.
While the technology has a wide array of potential applications in healthcare, agriculture, food safety, water quality, and national security, Lighthouse Biosciences is initially focused on the field of hospital-acquired infections (HAI). HAI are infections that patients receive during their care – in a hospital or other health care facility such as a nursing home – that are not related to any preexisting medical condition. Despite extensive efforts in recent years to address the causes, HAI remain a massive burden on the U.S. health care system with more than 1 million annual cases and 90,000 associated deaths, at a cost to health care of $5.7 billon per year and approximately $30 billion per year in the U.S. in social costs.
One of the key challenges in combating HAI is the need to develop a system of surveillance that can identify these infections as early as possible. The current standard is to send potentially infectious samples out to a clinical laboratory for analysis and wait for the results. This process typically takes up 2 to 3 days depending upon the proximity of the lab to the health care facility and the speed at which the lab can process the samples, a delay that can be an impediment to successful treatment. The NanoLantern technology has demonstrated the ability to provide results rapidly – within 15 minutes – and do so at the point of care.
The largest category of HAIs is urinary tract infections, which account for 40% of all infections. Lighthouse Biosciences, in cooperation with the URMC Departments of Urology and Microbiology and Immunology is currently conducting clinical studies to test the screening system at URMC’s Strong Memorial Hospital.
The underlying technology for the company’s NanoLantern platform was first developed by University of Rochester scientists Benjamin Miller, Ph.D., Todd Krauss, Ph.D. and Christopher Strohsahl, Ph.D. In addition to faculty appointments at the University, all three also hold corporate positions and/or equity positions in the company. Lighthouse Biosciences L.L.C., which was founded by the scientists in 2005, is based in the Lennox Tech Enterprise Center in Henrietta.