Michael Kochersperger is the new vice president of engineering at BioNanomatrix, which places him in the critical path for design and development of the company's nanoscale whole-genome imaging and analysis system. While the platform can be used for many commercial applications, including DNA sequencing, the immediate goal is to develop the technology to study structural variation across large segments of the genome.
"The near-term goal is to capture and leverage the commercialization of the mapping piece, looking for the structural variation, to get the framework built so that we can actually build applications on top of an imaging platform," says Kochersperger, who has an extensive background in product development and commercialization. "That'll be formed in such a way that it's actually a complete system, which would be the application piece, the data analysis, and the actual imaging hardware." The company is also focused on creating a platform that can handle multicolor imaging of single DNA molecules in the nanochannels on the flow chips.
Based in Philadelphia, BioNanomatrix is applying semiconductor manufacturing techniques to enable its unique nanoscale, whole-genome imaging and analysis. The company recently partnered with Complete Genomics on a federally funded project that aims to marry the two companies' technologies in an effort to sequence a full human genome for $100. The core technology uses channels embedded in silicon chips in the range of 100 nanometers or smaller in diameter, "small enough that in these channels only one molecule of DNA can reside at a time, and because of the size of the channels, the DNA will actually unwind," says BioNanomatrix CEO Michael Boyce-Jacino. "In solution, DNA will look like a little ball of string, so one of the problems in doing structural analysis is that you really can't see what's going on." What BioNanomatrix's technology could offer is a way to study DNA faster, more cheaply, and with higher accuracy than existing methods, says Boyce-Jacino. "The idea is that if you can unwind [DNA] and image it, you can actually see the structural organization of the DNA directly in the microscope."
Prior to joining BioNanomatrix, Kochersperger held various positions, including VP of engineering at New Brunswick Scientific, director of SNP-IT genotyping research and development at Orchid Biosciences, and various stints in project management and other areas within Applera and Applied Biosystems. While the sequencing project goes through 2012, Kochersperger will lend immediate attention to applying the technology to look at long-ranging structural variation in the genome — regions on the order of at least 1,000 base pairs.
"The opportunity presented itself here at BioNanomatrix to allow me back to the high-end, high-technology arena for biomolecule analysis," Kochersperger says. "Obviously this has a lot of potential. My experience will allow me to be able to put the early systems together and to hit the targets for early adopter placements." Those early adopters include academic research labs, as well as some clinical and diagnostic labs. As for hurdles in getting early adopters, Kochersperger seems confident. "The normal challenges with product development will always occur no matter how high the technology is or how basic it is," he says. "Moving things forward and establishing all the correct relationships with suppliers is what I do best."