WORCESTER, Mass.— BioPhysics Assay Laboratory (BioPAL) announced in mid-June that the National Center for Research Resources of the National Institutes of Health had awarded the company a Phase I Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant. This grant will support the development of an automated accelerator-based neutron generation device to detect and quantify the presence of stable isotope-labeled physiological probes in biological samples without interference from the sample matrix.
BioPAL is using this technology now and getting its neutron field access through a research nuclear reactor. As such, researchers can use the technology for a number of applications, including tracking stem cells, monitoring blood flow and other physiological tests, notes Dr. Dennis Vaccaro, BioPAL's chairman. The problem is that researchers have to send the samples to BioPAL for analysis.
"With this SBIR grant, we are trying to develop an instrument so that researchers can have this technology at their own institutions or at least at core facilities nearer to them, so that they can turn around samples faster than is possible in sending stuff to us," Vaccaro says.
The design portion covered by the Phase I grant, was scheduled to run for six months. After that, the company would submit a request for Phase II grant funding that would likely cover a period of two years to build a prototype.
An important aspect of BioPAL's system is that is has 15 different labels that can be measured simultaneously in an opaque piece of tissue or blood, Vaccaro explains.
"This device will allow researchers and clinicians to make rapid and simultaneous quantitative measurements of multiple physiological functions in the body," says Dr. Christopher Reinhardt, BioPAL president and chief executive officer, as well as principal investigator. "This means that the drug discovery process can be accelerated and made more efficient. Furthermore, this technology allows the researcher to pursue new therapies, such as the use of stem cells for repairing damage in myocardial infarction or spinal cord injury, in a much more controlled fashion. Cell tracking has become a significant new application for BioPAL's technology."
"This is like microarray, but in vivo," Vaccaro adds. "People talk about systems biology, where you want to look at cellular functions and how they work together to be organs and how organs work together to form living organisms. People are doing very good work with in vitro methods, but with compounds and physiological processes able to have so many different effects, you need to be able to run a number of different labels to see how everything effects everything else."
Looking farther into the future, Vaccaro says the technology ultimately could be the basis for what would be, essentially, the equivalent of a positron emission tomography (PET) scanner, but with 15 different labels instead of just one, and no half-life issues to worry about.