Posted by Jim H on August 5, 2011
Just passing along a great write up via LavaAmp partner Guido, who just moved to Chile to start work on a 6-month grant we won from StartUp Chile. Read the original article HERE. The rest speaks for itself……..
Empowering Citizen Scientists to Do It Themselves
DIY Bio Activists Seek to Improve Health in the Developing World
Chances are you’ve never heard of Chagas disease, unless of course you’re among the 40,000 people infected every year. It usually starts with a visit from The Kissing Bug, a blood-sucker named for it’s odd habit of “kissing” its hosts on the face during the night. The disease can be countered with antiparasitic treatments if caught early, but once it reaches the chronic phase the best you can do is delay or prevent its symptoms. These can include potentially fatal heart weakness or failure, malnourishment, or even dementia and motor impairment. There is no cure.
Diseases like Chagas are common and can have devastating effects in the developing world. There are a number of institutions that work to eliminate these and other health risks in the public interest – governments, inter-governmental agencies like the World Health Organization (WHO), and non-governmental organizations and charities. Many of their efforts have been successful and well known (thank you, WHO, for eradicating Small Pox), but their scale is limited by the amount of funding and political will they can muster. In an attempt to reach some of the more neglected areas of the world, some scientific progressives have begun advocating a less orthodox approach – do it yourself.
The DIY method, now a full-fledged underground movement, is based upon the belief that the average person can not only become equipped to solve their own challenges, but also contribute to the greater scientific community through open data sharing. This requires access to three things that most don’t have – proper equipment, training and opportunities for engagement. While there have been success stories in the States, providing these amenities in the developing world is a greater challenge. To find out whether or not DIYbio can help solve health issues abroad, several pioneers have begun the task of breaking down these barriers.
Equipment and Training
Any biologist will tell you that having the right equipment is essential to their work, but costs can be prohibitive in the developing world. According to Guido Núñez-Mujica, equipment that is already expensive in Western countries is even more so in developing communities due to high shipping and distribution costs. Núñez-Mujica intends to not only bring affordable equipment into remote areas, but make it easy to use as well. He is the co-developer of theLavaAmp, a handheld PCR device based on a concept originally proposed by Nitin Agrawal and colleagues at Texas A&M. PCR, an acronym for Polymerase Chain Reaction, is a method of copying DNA sequences. Until recently, the process required hefty machinery costing several thousands of dollars. Núñez-Mujica’s prototype, built by engineering firm Biodesic, will be no bigger than a cantaloupe, cost only $300-500 and be able to perform a DNA diagnostic in a matter of hours. That means if you get bitten by a Kissing Bug, you can find out if it was carrying Chagas on the spot. In fact, Núñez-Mujica was recently in Venezuela helping people do just that. He hopes that a teenager or hobbyist will be able to use the LavaAmp for everything from diagnosing Chagas to studying crop famine. “Rather than wait for solutions to come to them, [these communities] must be able to take steps themselves, even if those steps seem small.”
Nina Dudnik, meanwhile, seeks to not only bring affordable equipment to developing countries, but also provide much needed training. The difference is that her focus is on universities. Dudnik is the founder of the non-profit Seeding Labs, which collects unused equipment from labs in America and sends it to universities in Africa, Latin America and Asia at affordable prices. They also provide training both abroad and through intensive fellowship programs here in the States. According to Dudnik, their equipment has already been used by thousands of students and has directly lead to over 125 new publications, two new patents and a tool for diagnosing multi-drug resistant tuberculosis – a disease impacting one-third of the world population and an even greater percentage in poor communities.
Having affordable equipment and training is essential, but it doesn’t guarantee engagement. Few in their lifetimes are able to get hands-onexperience with the wonders of science, and even fewer get the chance to create real results. This is where companies likeKeegoTech come in. Their business is built on a microbial fuel cell (MFC) known as the MudWatt. In simple language, it’s a battery that runs on dirt. The technology is still too young to create enough power for practical use, so instead they sell the MudWatt to schools as an educational tool to engage children in science. In doing so, they have discovered that scientific advancement can come from anyone. Says their co-founder, Keegan Cooke, “MFC technology has the potential to become a cheap and reliable way of charging small electronics, but we’re not quite there yet. Scientists don’t yet know the best arrangements of electrode material or organic components to create enough power. So we invite students to experiment with our kit and post their findings on our community site. This has led to some very interesting ideas we never would have thought of.” Cooke’s favorite example is an eighth grader in California named Ricky, who alongside his father was able to double the output of the MudWatt from dirt in a local riverbed – a sample that KeegoTech is now working to analyze. But while they see this approach working in the developing world, their ability to successfully focus their efforts there is still uncertain.
The Future of DIY BioOrganizations like LavaAmp, Seeding Labs and KeegoTech have begun to demonstrate what can be done when we make it possible for the average person to engage in science. And they are already getting investors. Seeding Labs’ fellowship program in the U.S. is underwritten by Novartis. LavaAmp was recently awarded a $40,000 grant from Start-Up Chile, a program run by the Chilean Ministry of Economy. But the movement is young and unproven, and the likelihood of continued funding remains unsure.
Still Joseph Jackson, one of the premier authorities on citizen science, is undeterred. A key partner in bringing Núñez-Mujica’s LavaAmp to life, he sees potential for the DIY movement to take off in the developing world. “These countries generally have fewer restrictions compared to the U.S., and enough demand for solutions. If we can get past the infrastructure barriers, some of them could become ideal breeding grounds for open innovation.”
Posted in Awards and recognition, Blogterviews, LavaAmp, News, Scifoo | 1 Comment »
Posted by Jim H on May 27, 2011
I just got my copy of the book “Biopunk: DIY Scientists Hack the Software of Life“ and it’s a page turner: pithy and fascinating. It also features a couple chapters on my LavaAmp co-conspirators Guido and Joseph. We’re getting some decent free press on this one, that’s for sure. There was a feature last week in The Guardian interviewing Joseph and Guido won us a $40,000 USD grant through Start Up Chile.
From a write up in BoingBoing in April comes this quote: “We reject the popular perception that science is only done in million-dollar university, government, or corporate labs; we assert that the right of freedom of inquiry, to do research and pursue understanding under one’s own direction, is as fundamental a right as that of free speech or freedom of religion,” Patterson writes in A Biopunk Manifesto, a biohacker call-to-arms she wrote last year.
“We have no quarrel with Big Science; we merely recall that Small Science has always been just as critical to the development of the body of human knowledge, and we refuse to see it extinguished.”
That’s a “Two Fer” Meredith. As in fer shure, fer shure……..
Posted in Awards and recognition, Government Funded research, LavaAmp, Molecular Biology, News, Public/Private Companies, Rants | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Jim H on May 3, 2011
BioBriefing – 1 Day Class
Industry Knowledge for the Non-Scientist
June 16 | Frederick, MD
|BioBriefing provides a concise overview of the key concepts of biotechnology and an
introduction to the technology and terminology used by the biotech and pharma industries.
||June 16, 2011
||Frederick Chamber of Commerce
8420B Gas House Pike
Frederick, MD 21701
||A reference guide packed with all the slides presented in the class, background scientific information, statistics, and a glossary of terms. Lunch and refreshments provided.
|Industry Overview 9:00-10:15
- Biotechnology Defined
- Industry Sectors: Healthcare, Agriculture, Industrial, Environmental
- Spotlight on Diagnostics
- Top Companies
- Structure of a BioScience Company
How Basic Science
Drives Biotech 10:30-12:00
- Biotechnology Goals
- The Cell
- Genetic Variation
- Lab: DNA Isolation
- Activity: Genetic Variation of Taste
|Genetic Engineering 1:00-2:00
- Recombinant DNA
- Genetically Engineered Cells
- Recombinant Proteins (Biologics)
- Disease Models
- Antibodies Defined
- How Antibodies Are Made
- Biotech applications of Antibodies
Drug Discovery &
- Drug Discovery Timeline
- Rational Drug Discovery
- Target Validation
- Preclinical & Clinical Trials
Who Will Benefit:
- Professionals from all sectors of the biotech, pharma and life sciences industries, including: sales, marketing, HR, legal, manufacturing, business development, finance, management, government relations, IT, safety, tech transfer
- Policy makers, lobbyists, attorneys
- Venture capitalists, angel investors, banks, analysts, financial managers
- Insurance brokers, real estate professionals
- Consultants, public relations specialists, journalists
- Bioscience association staff, economic development executives
- University administrators, research institute support staff
Past Class Participants Include:
Amgen, Amylin Pharmaceuticals, Alexandria Real Estate, AstraZeneca, Biogen Idec, BIO, California Healthcare Institute, Chubb Insurance, Deloitte & Touche, Ernst & Young, Genentech, GE Financial, IBM, Life Technologies, Johns Hopkins University, KPMG, RENO Construction, Marsh, MedImmune, Merrill Lynch, Miles & Stockbridge P.C., Millipore, Morrison & Foerster LLP, Novartis, SAS, Stratagene, UCSF
Contact Kerri Muir at 410-377-4429 ext. 22 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Classes fill up quick so register today!
|Copyright © 2011 BioTech Primer, Inc. All rights reserved.
Posted in Events, LavaAmp, presentations | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Jim H on April 12, 2011
Biobeers on Friday rocked the Akonni house. We had about 200 people and killed 3 kegs in just about 3 hours, a new Biobeers record (although some people have nothing to be proud about). Let’s hope we can break that record in June. I have several people offering to sponsor in June, but we need a venue. If anyone has space for 200 people and the desire to have 200 people in biotech roost in their hood foe a few hours in June, let me know…
I uploaded some pictures sent to me by Cheryl at Akonni onto MeetUp. If you have any you’d like to share, please let me know.
And speaking of FredCoBio stuff, I was invited by my friends at SAIC-Frederick to be a part of a “Media Tour” of NCI-Frederick. the tour included a nice overview, a tour of the Laboratory of Proteomics and Analytical Technology (LPAT), the NCI Alliance for Nanotechnology in Cancer and the Electron Microscope Lab. It was a good tour, fairly basic on the hard core science side of things, but a good tour nonetheless.
I learned a couple things:
1. US consumers spent about $5.1 billion USD on Halloween in 2010. The entire budget for NCI annually is $5.2 billion. That means we spent about as much on pagan rituals and high fructose corn syrup products (excluding motor fuel) in 2010 as we did on cancer research.
2. The Federal Government spent in 30 days in the was in Iraq as much as they have in the past 30 years on cancer research (per the NCI budget).
OK, which one is has the best ROI? The War on Cancer or the War on Terrorism?
Posted in BioBeer, Blogterviews, Events, Government Funded research, LavaAmp, presentations | Leave a Comment »
Posted by Jim H on February 14, 2011
As if I haven’t pestered you all anough already BioBeers is this Friday at ImQuest Biosciences Friday February 18th starting at 4:30 PM. I am getting Ribs from RibCity, so please do RSVP so I can get the right amount. RSVP’s trickling in thus far and I am giving you multiple choices. You can RSVP by emailing me, leaving a comment or go on the MeetUp or LinkedIn sites (both require FREE registration). Badger, badger as in “Her hungry fingers tore at my shirt buttons like wild badgers” (a hilarious episode of Prairie Home Companion I listened to on the way back from Fredericksburg VA last week http://is.gd/UWzJWF can’t help it that I am a radio junkie).
Speaking of Badgers, Akonni was in the news this week for signing a licensing agreement with USAMRIID which covers covers nucleic acid sequences, primers, and probes that will serve as the basis for multiplexed molecular tests for Bacillus anthracis, vaccinia/orthopox virus, Yersinia pestis, and Venezuelan equine encephalitis virus. How neat is that?
Speaking of neat stuff, you all may know that I have been working on an inexpensive, hand held thermocycler (LavaAmp). Well, so compatriots of ours, Tito Janokoswski and crew with pearl biotech, have released a DIY $500 thermocycler. It’s based on the standard tube format PCR in aluminum block, so I don’t consider this a threat at all to our low resource, low power, portable device, but cool news nonetheless out of the DIYBio guys. They also have the Open Gel Box, which I contributed to. Keep it up!
So back to FredCoBio and stuff happening here BioElectronics is poised for huge growth. I know I haven’t blogged about them in a while, but their patch works and it’s not expensive and it’s really the only thing out there. I think it’s awesome!!
Posted in Academia, Awards and recognition, BioBeer, bizzare, Business, Events, Funny, General, Government Funded research, LavaAmp, Molecular Biology, Public/Private Companies, Rants | 1 Comment »
Posted by Jim H on July 8, 2010
Seems like I’ve started every recent post out with an apology for not being more diligent in maintaining this site. A slow day on my contract work at MedImmune gives me the chance to push some of my hidden agenda forward.
I missed out on an opportunity a couple weeks ago to tell all about Kempbio taking the Best New Incubator Company award. I share common lab space with Chris and Kempbio, so I am well aware of how good business has been for them. There was a good feature article in the Gazette and in
Tom Fedor/The Gazette
the Baltimore Citybizlist.
There’s even a mention in “la Tribune” about a recent licensing deal Kempbio made for a transfection reagent:
Polyplus Transfection cède un contrat de licence
La biotech spécialisée dans les vecteurs chimiques de transfert de gènes accorde l’utilisation de son savoir-faire à l’américain Kempbio, basé à Frederick (Maryland). Ce contrat participera à la hausse de 20 % du chiffre d’affaires (2,6 millions d’euros) prévue chez Polyplus en 2010. La start-up strasbourgeoise (27 salariés), qui a réalisé trois levées de fonds depuis 2002, continue d’investir l’essentiel de ses ressources en R&D.
On my home front, things are really starting to take off with the LavaAmp project. Rob Carlson, one of the shareholders with Biodesic LLC, is in DC this week for Meeting of the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues he mentions on his blog Synthesis. He just published a book through Harvard Press called Biology is Technology that’s getting us quite a lot of attention. I just got my copy last week and haven’t read it, yet. The reviews are pretty impressive, overall.
Meanwhile, Joseph Jackson, the CEO of LavaAmp, is organizing the Open Science Summit in Berkeley July 29th-31st. He also had a nice feature article published in Xconomy (San Francisco) called “The Open Science Shift“.
While were on the topic, Guido (the other shareholder) is off in Colorado going through training at the Unreasonable Institute. I can’t embed the flash in WordPress, but you can watch his pitch HERE. In a couple weeks, he’ll be off the Oxford to give his TEDTalk, as he was made a TEDGlobal Fellow.
Through all of this, I just arrange the BioBeers events. Speaking of which, I hope to have the next one at the new Riverside Research Park in August (date to be determined). That video on their home screen is awe inspiring. I wish it was embedable. maybe I’ll try to grab a copy. I hope to get in there to get more information about the NCI’s Advanced Technology Partnerships Initiative (ATPI). Here’s a link to the PDF describing the program. It’s up to you, Biotech companies in Frederick, to win some of these contracts! Stay tuned….
Posted in Awards and recognition, BioBeer, Blogterviews, Business, Events, Expansion, LavaAmp, News, Public/Private Companies | 1 Comment »
Posted by Jim H on February 5, 2010
Even though there is a lot going on in Fredcobio in terms of news to report, I have been spending most of my “free” time working a contract at MedImmune, setting up my cell culture lab with the help of AFAB Labs to get my Stem Cell project with FiberCell Systems up and running and spending a lot of time working on the LavaAmp project.
The project is taking off with terminal velocity. The web site is up and running (thanks to Eric at SyncHaven), we have a bold new logo, Guido is in the finals for the Unreasonable Institute’s Finals and preparing for the BIL 2010 Conference in Long Beach CA.
Here’s Guido’s page from the BIL2010 web site:
GUIDO NÚÑEZ-MUJICA – LAVAAMP: POCKET PCR FOR PENNIES
About the Talk
A buoyancy based device, dubbed the LavaAmp, is able to perform PCR faster than regular thermocyclers, for extremely low cost, and is easily of manufactured and operated. The LavaAmp will also be portable and battery or USB powered, programmable, and able to communicate with smartphones and computers. The LavaAmp hardware will be as open as possible, completely customizable and hackable, so it can be adapted to new purposes and suit the needs of its users. Currently, the detection of the amplified DNA has to be done by conventional agarose gels, however, a variety of methods could be used for in situ detection for the next versions of the LavaAmp. The coupling of DNA detection in a handheld device means quick, effective and even automatic detection of plant and cattle pathogens, food-borne bacteria and diagnostic of antibiotic resistant infections with no need of cumbersome culture tests, not always available. Such a device would allow better surveillance of emerging pandemics in risky areas.
This would improve our collective reaction time against pandemics and extend the reach of the PCR for solving needs currently unmet because of cost and portability. Portable Personal PCR can be attractive for diagnosing neglected diseases in a clinical setting or used by hobbyists and schools: Is this sandfly infected with leishmaniasis? Do you want to teach your kids the real science behind CSI? Do you want to perform your own paternity tests? The LavaAmp can solve these problems and answer these questions, it is an extraordinary tool harnessing the power of PCR and taking it outside the lab, allowing anyone to become a citizen scientist.
And in more, cool LavaAmp news Rob Carlson (a principle at Biodesic, LavaAmp’s Engineering design firm and LavaAmp shareholders) was on the Economist in late December in a panel discussion along with Dean Kamen (DEKA Research, inventor of the Segway), Dwayne Spradlin (Innocentive), and Kai Huang (Founder of Guitar Hero). Check it out on his blog post. Rob also talks about the LavaAmp in another blog post yesterday “Bits, Atoms and the Future of Manufacturing“
We continue to refine the hardware design of the LavaAmp, and it looks like we have the production hardware down to 5 or 6 components, 4 of which are injection molded plastic. The labor will only be in assembly of the final box, as all sub-assemblies should all come off automated fab lines of one kind or another. All the real cost is in the design and tooling — once we get up and running the per unit costs should be quite reasonable.
Posted in BioBeer, LavaAmp, Stem Cells | 2 Comments »
Posted by Jim H on November 1, 2009
One reason I have been lame in the blogging department is that I have been working on the LavaAmp™ project. After SciFoo camp last year, I was asked by Joseph Jackson and Guido Nuñez-Mujica if I could help them licences this device from Texas A&M.
Guido is from Venezuela and is most interested in infectious disease testng in 3rd world, remote applications. This is a talk Guido gave at Google shortly before SciFoo camp:
After nearly a year of negotiating with the TAMU tech transfer office (some day I’ll blog about University Tech Transfer offices stifling Innovation and commercialization) in the past 6 weeks we recruited Rob Carlson and Rik Wehbring from Biodesic and a the engineering prototype is built.
A more technical description from Robs blog post:
“The LavaAmp is based on the convective PCR thermocycler demonstrated by Agrawal et al, which has been licensed from Texas A&M University to Gahaga. Under contract from Gahaga, Biodesic reduced the material costs and power consumption of the device. We started by switching from the aluminum block heaters in the original device (expensive) to thin film heaters printed on plastic. A photo of the engineering prototype is below (inset shows a cell phone for scale). PCR reagents, as in the original demonstration, are contained in a PFTE loop slid over the heater core. Only one loop is shown for demonstration purposes, though clearly the capacity is much larger.”
So we’re off and running. Joseph is out at BilPil in San Diego this weekend with the device and hoping to get a little mention in at iGEM Jamboree in Boston, although it’s hard to be in two places at once.
A bit more from Synthesis: ”The existing prototype has three independently controllable heating zones that can reach 100C. The device can be powered either by a USB connection or an AC adapter (or batteries, if desired). The USB connection is primarily used for power, but is also used to program the temperature setpoints for each zone. The design is intended to accommodate additional measurement capability such as real-time fluorescence monitoring.
We searched hard for the right materials to form the heaters and thin film conductive inks are a definite win. They heat very quickly and have almost zero thermal mass. The prototype, for example, uses approximately 2W whereas the battery-operated device in the original publication used around 6W.
What we have produced is an engineering prototype to demonstrate materials and controls — the form factor will certainly be different in production. It may look something like a soda can, though I think we could probably fit the whole thing inside a 100ml centrifuge tube.”
And Attila over at PIMM also beat me to the blog punch.
I need to put together the press release and finish plans for BioBeers on Friday, put more marketing material in our Business Plan and write up a new proposal for amniotic tissue skin grafts this morning. Gaining momentum…..
Posted in LavaAmp, Molecular Biology, News, Public/Private Companies, Rants, Scifoo | Leave a Comment »