A big vision to rethink science with nanotech
InvenireX has serious ambitions for a faster, easier way of analysing DNA and RNA
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Today’s startup is proper deep tech.
It combines hardware, software, biotech, and nanotech; all towards a grand vision of accelerating scientific progress. Scroll down to read all about InvenireX.
But first… a few things you should know about:
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InvenireX harnesses nanotech for a ‘faster, easier’ way of analysing DNA and RNA
DNA and RNA can reveal all sorts of secrets… that is, if you can find the signal within the noise.
InvenireX has developed new software and hardware to make finding that ‘needle in the haystack’ easier, and spot problems sooner.
CEO and founder Dan Todd gives the example of a tumour. While even the smallest tumour will secrete telltale DNA into the bloodstream, that DNA is at such a low concentration that current tests can’t detect it until the tumour is much larger.
What Todd has developed is technology he says is far more sensitive than the PCR tests currently used to study DNA and RNA.
In addition to medical use cases, Todd says InvenireX’s tech has potential use cases in agriculture to detect problems with crop health before they’re untreatable.
It could also be used to test wastewater for pathogens before they become a problem, and he says it could even be used to detect signs of bioweapon development.
How it works
InvenireX’s tech is an intriguing blend of software, hardware, biotech, and nanotech.
Here’s how the process works. Let’s say a laboratory wanted to search for early signs of cancer in a blood sample. They would use the software to identify a nanite that can be used to find the specific DNA sequence they’re looking for.
Hold up… What are nanites?
Nanites are an example of the microscopic technology also known as nanorobotics, nanomachines, or nanobots. They can be programmed to perform tasks at a scale imperceptible to the human eye.
Todd describes these nanites as “autonomous nano structures that you can drop into a sample. They will find the piece of DNA you’ve programmed it for, home in on it, and capture it.”
Once they had identified the nanites they need, the laboratory would wait for InvenireX to deliver them. They come in a liquid solution that can be dripped onto the sample the laboratory wants to test. This is similar to how PCR tests require specific primers to be ordered in.
The nanites mix with the sample, usually in a test tube. The user then spreads the contents of that tube across a microfluidic chip that Todd has developed.
Hold up again… what’s a microfluidic chip?
I won’t explain microfluidics in detail here, but you can read about it here.
In this case, InvenireX’s chip acts as a home for the nanites once they’ve found what they were looking for.
“It’s a series of 10 million very, very, very small wells. The diameter of each of these wells is the size of a single red blood cell,” explains Todd.
The nanites glow once their mission is successful, resulting in a chip containing a number of glowing wells. InvenireX’s hardware can then scan the chip to count the number of wells that glow.
“You can equate that to concentration straight off the bat,” says Todd. “Within 20 or 30 minutes, it gives you an immense amount of power as a scientist of being able to see what's in your sample and what's not in your sample.”
The story so far
The story of InvenireX’s development is an unusual one in the biotech world as it involves quite a bit of DIY. It begins when Todd, a biochemist by background, was working on his PhD.
“I was given a task of engineering E coli cells to secrete DNA. I was trying to use conventional tools but it just wasn’t cutting it. I’d never questioned the tools because everybody used them, but it turned out they didn’t do what they were supposed to and people accepted it.”
As Todd puts it, “hubris kicked in” and he began working on a better solution, which eventually became the prototype InvenireX hardware.
“The first crude version was just motors that you can buy from hobbyist shops, with a microscope and then a camera attached. It was wired up to my computer and it had to be plugged in with 12 different cables.
“But instead of a microscope being, like, £100,000, I’d built this thing for like a couple of hundred pounds.”
As development continued, this hardware was then paired with A.I. A neural network was trained to identify and count the glowing nanites.
“The A.I. scans the chip in real time and all the scientists have to do is spread the sample on a chip and then stick it in. The A.I. does the rest.”
Indeed, ease of use was a key priority in the development process.
“This is no more complicated than a home printer,” claims Todd.
“And that's on purpose. It has to be like that, because the barrier to adoption for scientists is really high. You're expected to be a super-genius all the time. You've got to go and learn everything. But scientists don't have the bandwidth to do that - nor should they need to in this day and age.”
Newcastle-based InvenireX is currently a team of seven. The tech is currently in beta testing with two users to ensure that there is product-market fit. The next stage will be to expand the team and grow the testing group, ahead of a public beta pegged for launch around a year from now.
There are big potential markets the startup can tackle, such as in vitro diagnostics, agriculture, experimental research, and beyond. But Todd is keen to build things up methodically.
“We're going to find the foundation and put the tools in the hands of the scientists first…. so that the clever people with the tools can publish the papers, stress-test the tool, and then we’ll get credibility.”
Go deeper on InvenireX
More information on their funding, vision, competition, and challenges:
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