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CombiMatrix and Cyrano Sign Collaboration To Find Scents in Electronic Nose, Microarrays

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Does CombiMatrix have a nose for new applications of its electronic microarray technology?

The Mukilteo, Wash.-based unit of Acacia Research has announced a collaboration with Cyrano Sciences, a privately held Pasadena, Calif., company.

The two companies plan to develop a chemical sensor that combines CombiMatrix’s microarray technology and Cyrano’s “nose” chip, a polymer-composite sensor that is partially based on technology developed at the California Institute of Technology.

The collaboration illustrates one potential path for the evolution of microarray technology from a lab-based research tool for interrogating DNA molecules, to a biosensing system with myriad applications.

For CombiMatrix, the goal is simpler.

“In a sense, we want to make Cyrano’s [chip] more like a dog’s nose than a human’s,” Mike Strathmann, CombiMatrix vice president of research and development told BioArray News. “Humans don’t smell very much, but dogs have a very sensitive nose with a high density of nerve endings. We are not at that level yet, but approaching that is our goal.”

Cyrano will receive access to CombiMatrix’s technology and conduct developmental work. Financial details of the agreement were not disclosed, but Strathmann said the agreement does not include “a lot of development money.”

“We will leverage the product,” he said. “This will allow us to develop a product and develop other contractual relationships as well.”

CombiMatrix operates under a business plan that requires collaborations with business partners to develop and market applications for its technology. An example of this is its collaboration with Roche Diagnostics, for which it developed the Matrix Array, a customizable microarray platform that has been completed but is not yet commercially available.

Typically, CombiMatrix development agreements have two-year timelines for commercialization, Strathmann said.

Cyrano has a commercial product, the Cyranose 320, which was launched in 2000. The company also develops custom products under the NoseChips and Sensor Networking brands. According to the company website, the technol-ogy consists of individual thin-film carbon-black polymer composite chemiresistors configured into an array. The collective output of the array is used to identify an unknown analyte using standard data analysis techniques. The sensor array, along with data analysis algorithms, form the main components of Cyrano’s electronic nose.

Electronic noses mimic human olfactory processes. Noses contain a number of individual chemical sensors. Each sensor has a nonspecific response to a vapor mixture being examined and responds to every analyte mixture to varying degrees.

“As a cell in the nose does, what we will do is decipher how each [microarray] electrode responds to a different chemical compound,” said Strathmann. “The electrodes will fire off in a particular pattern that we can decipher on an array.”

The challenge, Strathmann said, is finding materials that will behave differentially, which will enable the platform to discriminate between similar chemical compounds.

—MOK

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