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NSF Awards Maine Manufacturing $500K to Develop Next-Gen Surface for Research, Dx


By Justin Petrone

Maine Manufacturing this week secured additional funding to support the development of a new array surface that the company believes will find eventual use in molecular diagnostics.

The National Science Foundation awarded the privately held Sanford, Me.-based firm a $500,000 phase 2 Small Business Innovation Research grant to further develop the surface, a composite of track-etched membrane and nitrocellulose.

Maine Manufacturing received phase 1 funding for the project, called, "Novel microarray platforms for detection of rare molecules in complex mixtures," two years ago (BAN 1/4/2011).

Chief Scientific Officer Michael Harvey told BioArray News this week that the firm believes the surface in development will be used in diagnostic applications.

Harvey said the new surface will be "more sensitive" than existing surfaces, "particularly in immunoassay applications."

Though Maine Manufacturing is not a diagnostics company — and doesn't aspire to be one in the near term — it works with diagnostics firms to develop and manufacture components, Harvey said.

With regards to the new surface, Harvey said that Maine Manufacturing is "talking to potential collaborators involved in cancer diagnostics and developing plans for the material to be tested." He did not elaborate.

Maine Manufacturing hopes to have its new surface on the market in different configurations, such as microarray slides and multi-well plates, by 2014, Harvey added.

Nitrocellulose membranes are favored for protein array use. Track-etched membranes are thin films with "defined pores that are optically transparent," meaning that they are compatible with light-based detection techniques, such as fluorescence, Harvey said earlier this month (BAN 3/6/2012).

Such a surface should enable detection of rare biomolecules that may be involved in cellular regulation, cellular differentiation, and disease mechanisms, he said.

Binding Surfaces

In the first phase of the NSF-funded project, Maine Manufacturing demonstrated its new membrane could support detection of low-abundance proteins in "complex biological mixtures, such as blood," the firm said in a statement this week.

The second phase of the project will focus on readying the surface for use in "specific applications in bioscience research, disease diagnosis, and pharmaceutical development." A "key objective" will be to create a new tool for the diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment of cancers, the firm said.

More specifically, Maine Manufacturing believes that the slides will find use in reverse-phase protein microarrays.

CEO Bill Emhiser told BioArray News earlier this month that the "biggest area of growth" for the company right now is in manufacturing reverse-phase protein arrays for other companies that sell them to end users, some of them doing translational medical research.

According to the new grant's abstract, surfaces currently used in reverse-phase protein array assays "exhibit limited sensitivity of detection due to optical interferences, low protein binding, and accumulation of nonspecific interactions." Moreover, the company said that, in general, while protein arrays are valuable as biomarker discovery tools, they have not been widely adopted to date due to "insufficient binding capacity, limited dynamic range, and poor sensitivity."

Maine Manufacturing believes that its new surface will overcome these challenges and will be adopted for the "most sensitive binding applications," such as reverse-phase protein arrays.

The platform initially will be optimized for fluorescent detection of rare molecules in complex cell lysates, according to the abstract.

Ultimately, Maine Manufacturing aims to provide a "family of discovery and diagnostic tools" based on the new surface "that will expand the understanding, detection, and treatment of human disease."

Founded in 2007, Maine Manufacturing obtained GE's FAST Protein Array product line and manufacturing resources when GE announced plans to close the facility in Sanford that produced these products.

The array portfolio includes the nitrocellulose-coated FAST slide, which has been used in protein array applications. It also includes FAST Quant micro enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay arrays, the Serum Biomarker Chip for cancer-related biomarker screening, other array accessories, and a microarray assay development service.

Though Maine Manufacturing had been making and supporting the FAST products, they had until recently been marketed by GE. That changed last month when Maine Manufacturing obtained exclusive rights from GE to commercialize the FAST Protein Array product line in return for an undisclosed royalty rate (BAN 3/6/2012).

Have topics you'd like to see covered inBioArray News? Contact the editor at jpetrone [at] genomeweb [.]com

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