Stefan Roever, CEO of Genia Technologies
“A business empire could be founded by the company that develops a cheap, highly accurate gene sequencer about the size of a sci-fi medic’s tricorder in an old Star Trek Episode” -Stefan Roever

Trying to establish the next empire to rival the approach that Apple has taken with the iPhone is no small task. However, Stefan Roever, CEO of Genia Technologies, is diving right in to achieve just that! Genia Technologies is working diligently in California’s Silicon Valley to pioneer the “iPhone of gene sequencing”. With a mission of making genetic information universally available, Genia is developing a sequencing platform that enables the use of molecular diagnostics in everyday clinical care.

Genia is attempting to achieve this goal of establishing a extensive business empire by developing a first-in-class, best-in-class device that can sequence an entire human genome for under $100. Price is one of the main challenges for physicians who would benefit from having their patient’s genetic data to help them reach a diagnosis or prescribe the best medicines. Genia, among other startups, are working to change that.

Founded in 2009, Genia will share in a recently awarded $5.25 million NIH grant with researchers from Harvard Medical School and Columbia university. The goal is to have the capability to quickly sequence the genes of a patient who gives a blood sample to a nurse. That sequence would then be analyzed via a network of cloud-based diagnostic applications that could identify the microbe that is ailing the patient by the time they get to go see the doctor.

Current methods of gene sequencing are pretty costly and time consuming since multiple copies of genetic material must be produced in order to ensure accuracy. Genia’s current device, which is about the size of a desktop printer, can sequence a single DNA strand, thus eliminating the need to produce multiple copies. Their approach is being utilized by other companies, such as Oxford Nanopore and Nabsys, who are also taking steps to move gene sequencing into a world that combines IT with synthetic biology in the same device.

Genia LogoCompanies in this industry take advantage of a particular element called a nanopore, a tiny channel through which an electrical current can flow and be measured by an electrode in a microchip, to read single strands of DNA. When a biomolecule enters the nanopore, it alters the current flow in a pattern that is characteristic of that molecule. Genia proposes using large arrays of nanopores to create DNA sequencing chips that allow the ability to pinpoint DNA bases during a specific biochemical reaction. The analysis of the data received reveals the sequence of the DNA strand. The difference in what Genia does, in comparison to other companies, is that Genia’s nanopore is a genetically engineered protein.

There is a lot of potential in nanopore-based sequencing and that can be seen by the NIH’s recent award of a total of $17 million in funding to it’s “$1,000 Genome” grant program. The largest grant of $5.25 million went to the inventors of the technology used in Genia’s instruments. Current pricing for sequencing an individual human genome is still around $4,000 to $5,000 and dropping that price down to about $1,000 will be a major victory. Getting the price down to $100 will be revolutionary!

Roever admits that the big turning point in this field will be when gene sequencing goes mobile. Roever also goes on to state that Genia is aiming to develop a handheld model as “a decentralized, universal diagnostic tool” found in medical offices and clinics. Much like the iPhone uses Apple’s iTunes store, this new device would utilize a web interface that connects physicians with a network of specialized diagnostic applications found in the cloud.

The beauty in all of this would be the ability to develop apps that could interpret a whole genome sequence and identify particular genes that are indicative of hereditary disease risks, genetic mutations in cancerous cells or infectious diseases. We are at the precipice of a breakthrough in gene sequencing that can help contribute to enhancing quality of living for millions, and quite possibly billions of people now and in the future.

 

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