Small Business, Grand Challenge: Elvesys Designs the World’s Fastest Pathogen Detection Platform
"We need high accuracy, high precision, and high speed for acquisition. We used NI hardware in the early stage, and thanks to the price, also the price policy of NI, we can keep this card in the final products that we sell. This is a huge advantage to lower the cost of development."
- Dr Maël Le Berre, CTO and Cofounder,
Public health crises are, unfortunately, no longer just plot points of apocalyptic novels or Hollywood thrillers. Diseases like Ebola and influenza, and pathogenic threats such as anthrax, are very real consequences of a growing and mobile world population. Establishing detection methods that can quickly and reliably diagnose these threats has true lifesaving potential.
Elvesys, a small French startup on the forefront of pathogen detection, used NI data acquisition hardware and LabVIEW software to create the world’s fastest pathogen detection platform to inexpensively diagnose patients.
Taking On a Grand Challenge and Battling Pandemics
Time and accuracy are critical elements when attempting to effectively detect pathogens. That’s why the National Academy of Engineering identified the advancement of health informatics as one of its grand challenges for engineering in the 21st century. The primary motivation behind this grand challenge is to improve preparation for, and response to, public health emergencies such as pandemics and chemical or biological weaponry.
A Record-Breaking and Lifesaving Response
Today’s pathogen detection technologies require considerable amounts of time and costly laboratory equipment to achieve accurate, reliable test results. When it comes to preventing an outbreak of life-threatening pathogens like Ebola and anthrax, minutes matter.
That’s why Elvesys developed Fastgene, the world’s fastest technology for detecting any pathogenic agent in a drop of blood or saliva. Using Fastgene, healthcare workers can detect Ebola in six minutes and anthrax in seven minutes. That’s respectively 7 and 14 times faster than the world’s best current technologies. This buys treatment time for patients and minimizes further exposure that could lead to an outbreak.
Figure 1. Fastgene Pathogen Detection Technology
Fastgene is based on Elvesys microfluidic technologies. Microfluidics is a technology born of microelectronics that allows for precise control of fluid samples. By drastically reducing the sample size to a single drop of blood or saliva, multiple diagnostic operations can be incorporated into a single “lab-on-a-chip.” The Fastgene lab-on-a-chip pathogen detection technology rapidly multiplies a specific portion of DNA to increase the number of copies present in the sample, making it much easier to detect pathogens.
There are three key components that make this microfluidics platform successful: the microfluidic sample management system, a fluorescent marker detection and measurement system, and a software interface to control the entire process. As the DNA is multiplied, the total quantity of pathogens present in the sample is determined by detecting a fluorescent spot in each DNA duplicate.
Given the rapid pace of DNA multiplication, it is critical that the fluorescent marker detection system keep pace without sacrificing accuracy. To accomplish this, Elvesys created and commercialized, through the Elveflow brand, a custom fluorescence reader using the NI USB-6003 low-cost multifunction DAQ device. Scaling down a complex laboratory procedure required software-integrated hardware with 100 kHz acquisition speed and the ability to detect small variations in the DNA amidst high background noise, with 16-bit resolution to ensure an accurate count of DNA samples.
Figure 2. Elvesys chose NI DAQ hardware because of its accuracy, precision, speed of acquisition, and cost.
Elvesys used LabVIEW software and its 950+ built-in analysis functions to optimize precision and speed while minimizing development time. Despite the complex functionality of fluorescence reader automation, DNA detection, and data analysis, Elvesys created a LabVIEW user interface to keep usability in the field simple.
Figure 3. Seamless integration of NI DAQ hardware with LabVIEW to control the Fastgene system greatly reduced development time.
Reducing Development Time With LabVIEW and NI Data Acquisition
With a small team of 20 individuals, Elvesys has brought to market, through Elveflow, the technologies used to develop the Fastgene pathogen detection system. As a highly innovative startup with accelerated development cycles and no external financial investment, having fully customizable DAQ hardware that could be programmed in a high-level development environment was essential in the success of this and other Elveflow instruments.
In fact, Elvesys designed, developed, and prototyped its entire pathogen detection platform in less than two years, which drew the attention of the French State Procurement Agency (SAE). The SAE further commissioned Elvesys to develop another prototype that could be deployed with French troops for operational use in the field. While this prototype can help protect troops or towns, its principal application remains rapid, low-cost diagnosis of patients during a medical consultation.
Their use of cutting-edge microfluidics and a reliable measurement system from NI also won Elvesys the Worldwide Innovation Challenge award from the French Government.
Figure 4. Elveflow is now a global leader in scientific instrumentation for microfluidics.
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