HTG working on radiation-exposure testing | Arizona Daily Star
By David Wichner
After a major nuclear accident, identifying early on which victims were zapped with the most
radiation could help save lives.
A Tucson company specializing in high-speed medical diagnostics is adapting its technology to a system that can rapidly measure the radiation exposure of large numbers of victims.
HTG Molecular Diagnostics Inc. is working with Arizona State University in the latest phase of a radiation-detection technology program funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA).
ASU recently won a $5 million contract option as part of a five-year, potential $35.4 million contract with BARDA. HTG's portion of the extension is $2.7 million.
ASU through its Biodesign Institute is leading the multi-institutional research program to build a test that accurately measures an individual's level of dose to radiation exposures in the aftermath of a radiological or nuclear incident.
HTG's core diagnostic technology, known as quantitative Nuclease Protection Assay (qNPA), is being developed as a platform that will enable testing of thousands of individuals a day, allowing more rapid and effective triage of large numbers of patients than is currently possible, said T.J. Johnson, CEO of HTG Molecular Diagnostics.
The next step is to develop a set of biomarkers - specific genes that are expressed in the presence of radiation - to measure exposure levels, Johnson said.
"There's really nothing we change with our core technology, other than building the system that has the appropriate biomarkers and the ability to handle the high-throughput volume."
High-speed testing is a specialty of HTG - formerly known as High Throughput Genomics.
The qPNA is used with the company's ArrayPlate product, which clusters 47 genes in each of 96 tiny wells in a standard-sized microarray plate, allowing thousands of tests to be performed simultaneously.
Once the biomarkers are determined, HTG will work on developing the high-throughput testing system, Johnson said. The current phase of the program will end in April.
HTG founder and chief science officer Bruce Seligmann is a collaborator on the project, along with Biodesign Institute biomarker expert Dr. Joshua LaBaer, director of the institute's Virginia G. Piper Center for Personalized Diagnostics.
The research project would seem timely, given the Japanese nuclear disaster stemming from the earthquake and tsunami in March.
"As Japan's tsunami and resulting nuclear crisis has demonstrated, there is an urgent societal need to rapidly assess an at-risk population's exposure to radiation," Lee Cheatham, deputy director of the Biodesign Institute and lead investigator on the project, said in prepared remarks.
But the BARDA program was launched several years ago, as part of a larger effort to spur innovation in medical responses to chemical, biological or nuclear incidents under the Pandemic and All Hazard Preparedness Act of 2006.
ASU has been leading the effort under a BARDA contract issued in December 2009. Besides HTG, other partners on the original contract include the Phoenix-based Translational Genomics Research Institute, Scottsdale Healthcare Research Institute, the University of Arizona, Columbia University and the University of Illinois-Chicago.