Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
The ability to rapidly read long strands of DNA with precise molecular precision has eluded researchers for decades.
But an Albuquerque startup is trying to achieve a breakthrough in genome sequencing. Currently, he has $2 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health.
Armonica Technologies Inc. says it can accurately distinguish one molecule from millions of particles attached to a DNA strand as it passes through a measuring instrument, based on a new method developed at the University of New Mexico. . This technology could open the floodgates to ‘personalized medicine’, allowing for faster medical diagnosis and more effective treatment of diseases such as cancer.
Founded in 2017, the company has raised nearly $8 million to date to advance its technology, which has already been proven in laboratory tests by UNM’s Center for High Technology Materials (CHTM) . But there is a need to develop standardized methods for manufacturing market-ready systems that operate with the speed and accuracy required for medical diagnostics, and this new NIH grant will help develop Armonica, the company said. CEO Victor Esch said.
“We are currently working to implement a manageable manufacturing technique on CHTM,” Esch told the Journal. “We are not quite ready for standard manufacturing.
The NIH grant, approved in August, reflects great enthusiasm for Armonica’s technology, said Waneta Tuttle of Tramway Venture Partners, which invested in the company.
“The NIH peer review panel expressed genuine excitement about the potential of this technology,” Tuttle told the Journal. “This is a true vote of confidence.”
Santa Fe-based Cottonwood Technologies Fund and Sun Mountain Capital also invest in Armonica. So did Hamamatsu Ventures USA, a subsidiary of global company Hamamatsu Photonics K.K., a world leader in photonics or light-based technologies.
Hamamatsu was drawn to Armonica’s photonics-based innovation. It applies laser technology to identify individual molecules in his DNA strands and uses advanced analytical tools to illuminate the molecules under study to better capture and measure their properties.
“We basically fabricate ‘nanantennas’ or enhanced structures, which are tiny antennas that resonate with light to interrogate individual molecules,” Esch said.
A complete DNA genome contains over 3 billion nucleotides or base segments that make up the individual building blocks of DNA. Researchers chop up these complete genomes into smaller pieces, or strands, of DNA and capture and identify individual molecules in bite-sized chunks as they pass through a laser reader.
However, with current technology, researchers have struggled to accurately detect and identify every individual nucleotide on each DNA strand. This is made possible by Armonica’s technology.
In addition, Armonica has developed nanoscale channels or nanopores to force DNA strands into laser readers. These tiny holes stretch and slow down the DNA strands as they pass through the reader, allowing the laser to process them with precision. This allows Armonica to use larger DNA strands in its laser readers, allowing more nucleotides to be recorded in a single sample and enabling the measurement process of all chopped DNA strands leading to sequencing. It’s faster. complete genome.
Acceleration of this process could reduce the time to complete genome sequencing from the current days or weeks to perhaps minutes, Armonica said. And with accurate reads at the level of individual molecules, Armonica’s technology can provide more important information for medical diagnosis that is often missed by current sequencing systems.
For example, researchers often miss “structural variants” or individual nucleotides that bind to DNA and change its function or properties, turning things on and off, Esch said.
“Many diseases, such as cancer, are a function of structural mutations,” he said. “Capturing and measuring these variants is critical in medical diagnostics.”
Accurate detection and identification of these variants, known as ‘epigenetics’, could advance medical breakthroughs in many areas, such as the study of the aging process.
“Today’s longevity research is looking at how epigenetics affects aging in the body,” Esch said. “It could lead to treatments that fix what’s causing the body to slowly disintegrate.”
Hamamatsu senior associate Robert Warren said Armonica’s next-generation sequencing capabilities could significantly advance medical diagnostics.
“It helps us understand DNA on a deeper level,” Warren told the journal. “It can give you a complete picture of what’s going on in each molecule.”
It could still take five to 10 years to fully develop Armonica’s technology and bring it to market, said Richard Oberreiter, managing director of Hamamatsu Ventures USA.
“Innovative technology takes time and money,” Overreiter told the WSJ. “…but advances in this kind of technology could provide breakthroughs in personalized medicine and disease treatment.”