The benefits of embracing photonic integrated circuits (PICs) have understandably piqued the interest of major computer manufacturers. However, it’s the applications benefiting those within research, diagnostics, and forensic science groups that are truly exciting.
Case in point: Delta Diagnostics created a label-free biosensing instrument enabling users to study interactions between different proteins. The system can detect and determine the concentration of 16 biomarkers in a sample simultaneously. Because it’s label-free technology, the biomarkers binding to the sensor can be detected in real time. As such, it’s possible to achieve rapid test results in minutes rather than four or five hours.
While Delta’s biosensor is currently a prototype, it’s already in use by industrial parties, academics, and big pharma to develop biomarker assays and conduct tests. “It’s already demonstrating the need for our platform,” says Delta Diagnostics CTO Bart deBoer, whose background is in electrical engineering, having worked for 10 years as a scientist at Philips Research.
By using PICs as a sensing technology, Delta Diagnostics can offer a much higher degree of multiplexing than currently available in the market. “That means you can obtain much more data from same sample,” he says. “Samples are often very small, which is important because there’s a clear trend in diagnostics towards the use of biomarker panels, rather than relying on the detection of a single biomarker for diagnosis.”
Why is this important? Simply put, the detection of a single biomarker is not good enough for reliable diagnostics. But there’s currently no platform in markets allowing researchers to discover and validate these diagnostic biomarker panels rapidly and conveniently. Yet, it is possible with PICs, and it’s relatively inexpensive at a factor of five times lower than is typical in the market.
Interestingly, with the prototype in the market, forensic applications such as obtaining information about the person leaving finger marks at a crime scene has surfaced as an application. Food safety tests to detect residues of antibiotics in milk is another use case in collaboration with a dairy producer. “It was surprising yet exciting to see applications that are not limited to human diagnostics,” he says. “It’s important feedback for us. Getting even an early prototype into users’ hands as soon as possible is crucial because they use it in ways that you cannot imagine.”
The next step is to move from prototype to final product ready for the open market, with a goal of starting production by the end of 2023. The challenge is to design products that are easy to produce, user-friendly, and satisfy the requirements customers have for certain instruments.
Delta Diagnostics has received a seed investment from The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research and PhotonDelta, an ecosystem of photonic chip technology organizations. This investment enables Delta Diagnostics to further develop and validate its biosensor systems in preparation for a Series A investment round later this year.