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Nabsys Sequencing Shoots for Big Picture Instead of Scanning Individual Base Identity

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The CEO of Nabsys is not your typical next-gen sequencing technology evangelist. Then again, the Nabsys nanopore technology is not based on your typical sequencing concept.

CEO Barrett Bready studied physics before getting his medical degree, which gives him a distinctly clinical bent when thinking about how nanopore sequencing could be applied. Among his goals: to make sequencing fast, accurate, and cheap enough that clinicians could sequence multiple genomes from a tumor, for instance, in the recognition that cancer patients rarely have completely homogeneous tumors that will respond well to a single course of treatment.

The Nabsys approach uses an electronic measure, rather than the more common nanopore goal of directly reading DNA bases as they flow through. Rather than detecting sequence base by base, the Nabsys concept is to hybridize short probes of known sequence to the DNA strand, feed the product through the nano-pore, and then use changes in current to measure where the probes bind and the distance between them. DNA strands could theoretically be longer than 100,000 bases during this process — Nabsys has tested it out on strands as long as 50,000 bases. The probe sequences are then collected and the distances between them fed into an algorithm that overlays the data to generate a full sequence of the DNA in question.

The beauty of the approach, as Bready sees it, is its reliance on solid-state materials for the nanopore rather than the more traditional protein nanopores. This has improved the signal-to-noise ratio by an order of magnitude compared to other technologies, he says, and allows the company to use readily available, time-tested materials from the semiconductor industry.

The company has not sequenced a genome yet, but proof-of-concept studies indicate that a full human genome sequence could be generated at 25x coverage for less than $100 and in less than an hour, Bready says.

Nabsys, based in Providence, RI, was founded in 2004 as a spinout from the physics department at Brown University. The company just completed its first venture round, raising $4 million.

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