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Boston University, Fraunhofer Expand Alliance To Develop Chips for Diagnostic Applications

Boston University’s College of Engineering last week said it will to partner with German R&D organization Fraunhofer to develop microarrays for molecular diagnostic applications.
Scheduled to begin in January, the BU-Fraunhofer Alliance for Medical Devices, Instrumentation and Diagnostics will be a 5-year, $5-million initiative that will work with BU’s Department of Biomedical Engineering.
According to Andre Sharon, director of the Fraunhofer Center for Manufacturing and Innovation, the alliance has yet to decide what disease areas to pursue. Instead, BU and Fraunhofer will focus on developing a resonant cavity imaging biosensor for label-free binding detection in microarrays during the first year of the initiative.
Sharon told BioArray News this week that BU and Fraunhofer will both contribute $500,000 each per year, with the hope that the alliance will become self-funding through “licensing royalties, research grants, and spin-off equity” when the initiative runs its course.
He added that the partners have agreed to share all IP related to the project.
Sharon said the initiative builds upon an existing 12-year partnership between the organizations and that it will open Fraunhofer’s R&D pipeline to clinicians at Boston University Medical School with the goal of creating a translational research environment where physicians can deploy the Fraunhofer technology in point-of-care situations.
“Typically there [is] all sorts of great research going on at universities, but it takes a long time to actually deploy it to the patient point-of-care,” Sharon said.
“The goal of this alliance is to create an efficient process by which highly promising research projects are regularly moved from the laboratory to the patient point-of-care. So this initiative is much more focused right now in regards to medical device instrumentation and diagnostics,” he added.
“We’ve been involved in developing technologies for making high-density microarrays — both DNA as well as other arrays” since before the alliance was created, Sharon said. When this alliance kicks off on January 1, one of the initial projects that will be pursued is a label-free detection technology for determining where in the array the binding actually occurred, Sharon said. “So you would not need to do the traditional route of using fluorescent dyes to detect when binding occurred,” he said.
“There’s research being done at BU using resonant cavity imaging to sort of optically determine whether binding has taken place. You can do that in a very powerful fashion so that you can actually scan the entire array and determine precisely which sites incurred binding,” Sharon said.
As an example, he cited the resonant cavity imaging biosensor developed by BU’s Bennett Goldberg and Selim Unlu for detecting binding between target biomolecules from a sample and probe biomolecules fixed to a microarray surface. BioArray News spoke with Goldberg, the director of the Center for Nanoscience and Nanobiotechnology at BU, about the technology in March (see BAN 3/7/2006).
The biosensor works by moving an optical infrared beam resonantly through a cavity constructed from Bragg mirrors that contains the microarray surface. The wavelength of the IR beam is swept using a tunable IR laser source and an IR camera monitors cavity transmittance at each pixel, creating a parallel signature of transmittance versus wavelength for the microarray surface.
According to Sharon, the RCIB technology should be applicable “across the board” in molecular diagnostics. Once that technology is developed, the alliance will begin focusing more on specific disease areas.

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