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Pittsburgh Incubator LaunchCyte Backs Development of DNA Barcoding Technology


LaunchCyte, a Pittsburgh-based bioinformatics incubator, has decided to pour its financial rocket fuel into a bead-based molecular barcoding method, developed at Indiana University, that it hopes will blast off into the commercial sphere.

LaunchCyte, along with the inventors of the technology and the university, is studying the creation of a startup company around the technology.

The technology involves fluorescent crystal chips called quantum beads, which are implanted inside micron-wide polystyrene beads. Each polystyrene bead has a different number of quantum beads, which themselves vary in size. This creates a signature barcode. The polystyrene beads are then attached to macromolecules such as DNA, RNA, or proteins. By detecting the particular fluorescent signature of each bead, and the strength of the signal in a solution, the user is able to detect the concentration of macromolecules attached to the bead.

Inventors Shuming Nie, Mingyong Han, and Xiaohu Gao reported on this technology in the July 2001 issue of Nature Biotechnology.

“In developing this technology, we have taken true advantage of the unique optical properties of semiconductor nanomaterials and have overcome many of the problems associated with organic dyes,” said Nie, a professor of chemistry at Indiana University.

LaunchCyte, which acquired an exclusive option to commercialize this technology, is exploring its use in gene expression analysis, ultra-high-throughput proteomics, SNP detection and mapping, and cell surface marker identification.

“The Indiana technology creates new ways of accomplishing high-value work,” said Tom Petzinger, CEO of LaunchCyte. “We think this technology can increase throughput not simply by doing more work in smaller volumes, but by doing that work in an altogether new way.”

Like other bead-based life sciences technologies, the quantum bead allows multiplex measurements of thousands of assays simultaneously. But this technology is different from others such as PharmaSeq’s microtransponder technology, because there is no need to flow beads past a detection mechanism, Petzinger said. The technology also requires less spatial separation than other labeling mechanisms, he said.

Could this be the next microarray? Possibly, said Petzinger. “Microarrays separate samples spatially, while the [quantum bead] separates them spectroscopically.”

LaunchCyte aims to seek a combination of venture funding and strategic partnerships, but is still developing the the commercialization strategy.


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