Bioengineering Student Discovers Key To Early Cancer Diagnosis
Cancers that are detected early have the best chance of being cured but, until now, there were no methods of detecting cancer at its earliest stages. Raj Krishnan, a PhD student in bioengineering at the University of California San Diego (UCSD), has created a technology for the early diagnosis of cancer, giving new hope and possibility to cures that have eluded cancer victims for years because their diagnoses were too late.
Krishnan focused his study on the DNA that roams cell-free in the blood as cancers develop, trying to figure out how to separate out the nanoparticles of DNA without degrading them. These nanoparticles are between 5 and 50 nanometers in size, smaller than the wavelength of light.
As Krishnan's professor, Michael Heller, noted: “It’s very difficult to find [cell-free DNA] in blood. The analogy of needle in the haystack has been used, but I’d say it’s more like looking for a needle on the whole farm.”
Actually, it was harder than that, because Krishnan was bucking a process -- using electric field techniques -- that other researchers in the field had "proven" would not work. Krishnan was able to find the right circumstances under which the DNA could be isolated in tact with electric field technology, and he demonstrated it!
Even Professor Heller was dubious about the discovery and spent six months, along with Krishnan, trying to figure out why no one else had discovered it. Then, finally convinced, Heller, Krishnan, and fellow grad students David Charlot and Roy Lefkowitz filed the patent applications, and founded a company, Biological Dynamics, to move their diagnostic technology into clinics.
Their product is a cost-effective blood test that takes less than 30 minutes and detects almost every cancer type. Their business plans call for developing two products: a blood analyzing system which will be priced at approximately $20,000 and disposable electrode cartridges to do the tests, priced at about $20.
Surprisingly, seed money for Biological Dynamics was not easy to come by from investors, so Krishnan entered every research competition he could, even a business plan competition, and he is using the winnings to support the business. His most recent award was first prize in the UCSD 2009 Entrepreneur Challenge... $40,000.