Diagnostics & Imaging Week

ATLANTA — While Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech; Atlanta) student Brad Kairdolf was studying biomedical engineering, his wife Alyssa was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Because the first pathology report was negative, she ended up having to go back into surgery a week after the initial biopsy when further analysis of the tissue sample confirmed cancer.

The time lag and subjective nature of the initial diagnosis was frustrating and ultimately was Kairdolf's impetus to develop a better diagnostic tool. His educational focus confirmed, he later launched DiagNano (Atlanta) in 2006, a company spun out of the Georgia Tech College of Management and Emory University (Atlanta) Law School TI:GER project.

The company is based on a special coating technology he co-developed in the lab of Shuming Nie, PhD, a professor in the Wallace H. Coulter Department of Biomedical Engineering at Georgia Tech and Emory. Nie is one of the most highly regarded researchers focused on quantum dots, which are light-emitting semiconductor crystals.

Alyssa was cancer-free for four years when Kairdolf presented DiagNano's unique diagnostic tool — custom quantum dot nanoparticles capable of imaging at the molecular level for more accurate disease diagnosis — at last week's Georgia Life Sciences Summit in hopes of attracting investors.

"We're using quantum dot technology for sensitive and specific diagnostic detection," Kairdolf told Diagnostics & Imaging Week. "They are like fluorescent dyes, but have unique properties that make them better than dyes. We can make different colors to code for different molecules that we're looking for. The idea is to look at multiple markers for diseases to speed up diagnoses and to give very accurate readings of the biomarkers we're looking for."

Quantum dots fluoresce to identify biomarkers.

"We can make them different colors to code for different molecules that we're looking for," Kairdolf said. "We're trying to do multiplex analysis — analyzing multiple signals at the same time. The idea is to look at multiple markers for disease to speed up diagnoses and to give very accurate readings of biomarkers we're seeing."

One of the problems with quantum dots, which have been around for a while, is their inherent stickiness.

"Stickiness can lead to a false diagnosis," said Kairdolf. And it's DiagNano's non-stick coating that makes quantum dots far more effective and reliable. "It helps to eliminate background noise and make it more sensitive."

Immunohistochemistry is a diagnostic technique currently used by pathologists and they are able to identify just one biomarker per slide. "We can give the pathologists something they are familiar with, but we're able to use these quantum dots to look at multiple markers at the same time," he said. "They can also use also use hardware and software to measure the light coming from the quantum dots to objectively analyze how much of the biomarker is present."

If pathologists can more accurately and quickly identify diseases such as cancer, physicians can provide more targeted and personalized therapies. Kairdolf and his team call it a patient-specific cancer fingerprint.

And although the company's initial focus is on cancer, the diagnostic technology could in theory be applied to any disease for which tissue biopsy analysis is needed.

Kairdolf said DiagNano is currently working with a $50,000 grant, but is seeking more grants and a licensing deal.

Following the Georgia Life Sciences Summit presentation, Kairdolf confirmed numerous inquiries from prospective suitors.