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With NCI Grant, Librede Looks to Develop Nanopore-Based microRNA Diagnostic


NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Looking to expand beyond ion channel drug screening, Librede has begun work on developing its core artificial lipid bilayer technology for use in an automated nanopore-based platform for microRNA diagnostics.

With the support of a six-month, $224,000 grant from the National Cancer Institute, the company aims to develop a prototype system that can detect the small, non-coding RNAs cheaply and with off-the-shelf reagents, CEO Jason Poulos told GenomeWeb.

Once that work is complete, Librede aims to test its approach in clinical samples, he said.

Since it was founded in 2008, Librede has focused on developing technologies for cell-free ion channel screening. As part of that work, the company created a platform for the creation of lipid bilayer membranes, Poulos explained.

"The lipid bilayer technology we use is a version of what is commonly known as the droplet interface bilayer method," he said. This process involves submerging a water droplet in an oil/lipid mixture, which results in the formation of a lipid monolayer. When two of these droplets are brought together, the oil between them is displaced and a bilayer forms.

Using this approach, Librede has created bilayers containing various ion channels that are arrayed on a plate. Using an automated screening platform, the effects of various drugs on the ion channels' conductance can be measured.

Seeing potential for its technologies beyond drug screening, Librede is now aiming to create arrays of lipid bilayers containing nanopores that can be used to quantify disease-associated miRNAs without the shortcomings of RT-PCR.

Rather than ion channels, the lipid bilayers would contain nanopores, through which ionic currents are passed. Probes that bind to specific miRNAs are introduced into a blood sample, which generate unique electrical signatures as they pass through the nanopores. These signatures can be used to measure the levels of probe-bound miRNAs.

"We're basically creating a different type of hybridization assay" based on electricity rather than fluorescence, Poulos said. And because the process does not involve amplification, it does not have the potential for variability that RT-PCR does. Additionally, because the process does not require expensive optics or specialized reagents, the system is expected to be relatively inexpensive.

As of right now, Librede is still in the early stages of the project, and with the NCI grant the company is focusing on creating the initial miRNA-detection instrument and testing it with animal blood samples spiked with different miRNAs.

"We're trying to show that microRNA measurements can be fully automated … see what our detection limits are, and to make sure we can measure repeatable microRNA concentrations coming out of blood," Poulos said.

Once that work is completed, Librede hopes to test the system with clinical samples through collaborations with academic groups studying the diagnostic potential of circulating miRNAs. And while the firm has been planning to begin with samples from lung cancer patients, it is also considering hepatitis C virus, he said.

Ultimately, Librede hopes that it can develop a system that is affordable and simple enough to be used in doctors' offices and hospitals, Poulos said.

"The mission here is to decentralize the measurement, but centralize the analysis," he said. A blood sample would be taken and run through Librede's instrument, which would be connected to the internet and send the data for analysis on the company's servers. A diagnostic readout would then be sent back to the instrument.

In theory, "you don't have to have an expert around," he said. "The whole setup will be fully automated and the analysis can happen in the cloud."