As Alison Burklund and her friend and classmate Amogha Tadimety talked during their lab work at Dartmouth College they realized their individual pursuits could work together.
“We’re really excited about it,” Burklund said.
The Ph.D. students were working at Dartmouth’s Thayer School of Engineering, each with the intention of going into business. Burklund’s research is into pathogen purification, and Tadimety’s is into DNA and RNA characterization.
“We were both doing Ph.D.s because we wanted to get to the level where we developed technologies that could be useful,” Tadimety said.
Soon, the pair realized they could combine their research to develop a whole new way to diagnose illness.
“When we were going in the lab together, we realized our work was extremely complimentary,” Tadimety said.
The new diagnostic tool they developed could have the ability to take a sample from a patient and get a diagnosis within minutes. Burklund said their technology would be able to filter out the typical “noise” in the patient sample and find the biomarkers of the illness.
Tadimety and Burklund started their company, nanopathdx, with the intention of using the technology to diagnose cancer, but then the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. They soon realized that their diagnostic tools could bring a real impact in the fight against the pandemic.
“With this infection, being quick is really useful,” Burklund said.
Right now, it could take hours or days before a patient tested for COVID-19 gets the results. That means the patient has to quarantine while waiting for the results, or risk exposing other people to the virus. With the nanopathdx system they could get their test results within minutes of taking the test. A person who needs to quarantine would be able to do so right away, cutting down on the spread of COVID-19.
“We’re really just an impact motivated, mission driven company,” Burklund said.
The company plans to start working with patient samples in the next few months to begin a round of testing. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Food and Drug Administration has created a pathway for a faster approval process for new technology like nanopathdx’s.
“We think that maybe within six months we’ll have data to get the approval,” Tadimety said.
The technology can be fitted to look for a variety of illnesses, not just COVID-19. It can be set to find cancers, respiratory infections, urinary infections, blood borne infections and wound infections. The system can also be used to monitor environmental contaminants and even be used for biosecurity applications.
Their company came in second in the Rice University Business Plan competition for startup businesses, which Dartmouth College’s Magnuson Center for Entrepreneurship’s Director Jamine Coughlin said shows the power of their ideas.
“It has been remarkable watching Amogha and Alison develop their idea as students in our world class Ph.D. Innovation Program into the company it is today,” Coughlin said. “Their scientific know-how matched with their business acumen and overall commitment to this entrepreneurial pursuit is to be commended.
"To compete in the internationally recognized Rice Business Plan Competition, against 400 other student startups, and to place second overall, speaks volumes to the infrastructure that we are providing student entrepreneurs, both in the classroom and via the ecosystem we are building," he said. We all look forward to watching where Amogha and Alison take nanopathdx, as we are certain they will do great things,”
Tadimety and Burklund plan to make as big an impact as possible with nanopathdx, including developing a low-cost option for medical professionals in the developing world. Burklund also said they want to help other women led businesses in the STEM field to succeed.