Year: 2013-14

Company: National Science Foundation

Liaison(s): Angelika Niemz, Charles Taylor

The National Science Foundation (NSF), under its “Partnerships for Innovation” (PFI) program, provides funding for collaborations between academic institutions and small companies, to facilitate the translation of academic discoveries into novel products. This TMP team is working on an NSF-PFI funded project involving Keck Graduate Institute (KGI), Pomona College, and four small business partners: Tanner Research, Claremont Biosolutions, Lambda Solutions Inc, and Synedgen. The goal of this project is to develop and market a device that will allow for the early non-invasive diagnosis of Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia (VAP) through analysis of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Biomarkers. Patients on ventilator support are frequently colonized with pathogenic bacteria that grow as biofilms inside the endotracheal tube. However, the presence of such biofilms does not necessarily lead to active pneumonia. The gold standard for VAP diagnosis therefore involves quantitative culture of a bronchoalveolar lavage sample, which is highly invasive and involves long turnaround times, thus leading to high costs, presumptive treatment prior to confirmed VAP diagnosis, and over-use of antibiotics. The overall goal of the NSF-PFI project is to enable early, noninvasive, differential diagnosis of VAP by measuring changes in VOCs exhaled by patients on mechanical ventilator support. To identify unique VOC signatures that can differentiate bacteria present as biofilm versus infectious, planktonic form, the team developed a setup to grow bacterial biofilms and collect emitted VOCs, followed by analysis via GC-MS. Through literature searching and bioinformatics tools, the team investigated the scientific background and identified differentially regulated metabolic pathways that may be involved in production of unique VOC signatures. The partnering organizations of this NSF PFI project are developing a device, consisting of a disposable sample collector, and a compact instrument, that can be used to identify VOC signatures from the exhaled breath of mechanically ventilated patients. To better understand how this device could be integrated into current clinical practice, the team is conducting primary user research to identify unmet needs and clarify product requirements. Furthermore, the team is analyzing the competitive landscape and market potential, and is identifying potential strategic partnerships. By developing a preliminary commercialization plan, the team aims clarify alternative paths for market entry.