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GenTel s Nelson Tackles Microarray Problem with Surface Chemistry


At A Glance

2001-Present - chief scientific officer of GenTel Biosurfaces.

Education: PhD, chemistry, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

BS, St. Olaf College, Minn.


GenTel BioSurfaces is a privately held firm working on surface chemistries and microfluidics applications in manufacturing microarrays. The firm recently announced that it had received a series of five grants from the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation to support its research. The primary project for the Madison, Wis.-based firm is the development of an allergen biochip that it hopes will one day replace the current ELISA-based test.

This week BioArray News interviewed Bryce Nelson, GenTel’s chief scientific officer, about the allergen biochip, other projects under development at the company, and how a team of surface chemists is approaching the development of microarrays in a different way.

How did you get started in this field?

We started from the spectroscopy and surface chemistry end, coming from surface plasmon resonance and infrared spectroscopy where we were building surface chemistry on gold monolayers. We started doing surface plasmon resonance in a microarray format and developing surface chemistry for that type of technology. We realized the real need out there, and what people were demanding, was better surface chemistry for use with the instruments that they already had in-house, like fluorescent microarray scanners.

What is the biggest challenge you face in dealing with microarray technology?

With protein microarrays, everyone is working on non-specific binding, and trying to control the surface characteristics is the hardest task. That is where we believe the technologies and techniques we bring in can really make an impact.

Tell us about the technology you’re working on right now related to the grants you’ve received this year.

We’re focusing on technology for making an allergy diagnostic on a microarray. Basically, the surface chemistry is the core of the technology. We’ve taken some of the technologies we learned as surface chemists and new chemistry building better hydrogels, building better attachment chemistries and coupling it with some microfluidics technologies to basically make it an easier-to-use diagnostic.

How unique is the technology you’re working on?

I don’t think it’s a completely unique technology, but it’s pushing forward technologies that exist in terms of microfluidics and surface chemistry. We have a few proprietary surface chemistries. But putting them all together and working with collaborators at the University of Wisconsin to make an effective diagnostic is what’s new. Also, keeping the cost low by using existing instrumentation, using very small samples, and using a lot of off-the-shelf available technology to make it work fast is new.

What are the potential applications of the technology? Is it purely diagnostics?

Our first aim is to work into research diagnostics. But there are a lot of different [potential] applications, such as therapeutic monitoring and diagnostics in humans and animals.

Can you tell us more about the allergen biochip GenTel is developing?

We can do a standard curve on the biochip, which helps us calibrate on each chip, and we can run a number of samples on each surface against allergens. So, you will be able to replace the commonly used prick test in the doctor’s office with something that would use a small amount of blood and look at a large number of potential allergies that a person would have. The advantage of this technology over the existing ELISA-based technologies is that we believe the price of microarray scanners is falling rapidly and it will enable the test to be performed in any clinic. Microarray scanners are easy to use, and it would make the test faster and more efficient, with less blood and less pain.

When might we see a technology like this commercialized and in our doctor’s office?

We’ve done the proof of concept and we’re working on the allergens, and of course the FDA process takes a while. But our first stab at the market would be in research diagnostics, and that would be something we would see in just a few years.

What other technologies are you working on?

We’re working on a method to immobilize proteins on surfaces. It’s a fusion protein technology that would be [applied to] making protein microarrays. Another one we’re working on is using microarrays to look at gene regulation. Basically, whereas most people are looking at mRNA expression, we would be looking at protein-DNA interactions and protein-protein interactions.

Does GenTel intend to remain private or are there plans to go public in the future?

We’re not really an IPO-type company. We look at building the company’s value for a number of years. We would be more suited to an acquisition at some point.

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