Sandia National Laboratories is looking to team with companies in the private sector to bring its prototype, hand-held chemical and biotoxin detection system, called MicroChemLab, to the market.

Livermore, Calif.-based Sandia dates back to the time of the Manhattan Project and is a research and development facility operated by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration. Its goal is developing materials for national defense.

The hope for MicroChemLab is that it can be used to detect toxic agents in the event of bioterrorism and for use in the military, but Sandia said there also are "a variety of applications and near-term commercialization opportunities" in such markets as "air and water quality, medical diagnostics, biotechnology and industrial process control."

"We are looking for partners to license subcomponents that are actually really close to being ready to go, license blocks of intellectual property relating to the MicroChemLab unit, to cooperatively develop and research additional applications for [MicroChemLab] and we're looking for a systems integrator," said Jill Micheau, a business development associate at Sandia. "We'd really like to find somebody who can put these things together and push them out into the market, because the Department of Homeland Security would like these to be available to first responders."

As to whether those partners would be many or few, Micheau said it depends on the companies that approach Sandia.

"We certainly don't know how this commercialization opportunity will turn out," she said. "I think that there are so many different avenues and applications for MicroChemLab, we will probably be partnering with many companies that have different interests in applications."

MicroChemLab has two components at this point: MicroChemLab BD (Bio-Detection) and MicroChemLab CD (Chemical Detection). One of the hopes for a partner is that the two "boxes" can be brought together in an "elegant" fashion, Micheau said.

MicroChemLab BD is a liquid-phase system that is microfluidic based and is designed to discriminate proteins to detect and identify biotoxins, viruses and bacterial agents. The first generation of the system was taken to the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory in Porton Down, UK, to test its ability to detect biotoxin variants.

"It successfully detected seven different forms of ricin and could distinguish between two staphylococcal enterotoxin variants," Sandia said, noting that the event helped develop a second prototype, which is scheduled for field trials this fall.

MicroChemLab CD involves two gas-phase systems - one hand held and one autonomous - that can be used for the detection of chemical warfare agents and a selection of toxic industrial chemicals, explosives and organic solvents. The systems have been tested with nerve and blister agents.

Two of the units have been sent to the U.S. Army Soldier Biological and Chemical Command for testing. Sandia said a stationary gas-phase system that performs readings every two minutes is currently deployed in the Boston subway system and has performed more than 100,000 tests with no false positive readings.

Sandia's research and development role prevents it from taking products to the market, but it does have "robust working prototypes," Micheau said.

"The laboratories are not very product focused," she said. "They generally take things to the prototype phase, and then we wait for the market to take it."

As for a timeframe of when it wants to partner, Micheau said, "Yesterday" - mainly because the goal is to have the two platforms being produced within two years.

"When we search for licensing agreements, we do hope to recover a portion of our research costs, so it's a standard business agreement where companies could license our intellectual property and in return provide the laboratories with royalties," Micheau said, noting that any royalties would be funneled back into additional research.