Turning an Idea into a Technological Reality Continued:
The individual microchambers Drs. Kuypers and Lee have developed are so small that they are only ten times bigger than a red blood cell.
"One way of expressing this is to say that a single drop of water would fill 100 thousand of these chambers," says Dr. Kuypers of the new technology, no bigger than a sliver of a computer chip.
Additional research is required however, to take the single-cell microchamber array, called SiCMA, already filed for patent protection, from the proof of concept provided in this study to a commercially viable product.
"The step from a great idea to a commercial product often can be very difficult to overcome," says Dr. Lee.
No one, from a bank to a potential industry partner, is easily convinced to invest the amount of money required to make an untested idea a reality.
"Just to give you a little context, the pharmaceutical industry is only interested in developments that they feel will bring in at least many millions in profit – annually," says Dr. Kuypers. "You could have the greatest idea in the world, but if you want to commercialize it, you have to find some funding up front to prove your principle."
Illustratation of a small SiCMA with 10,000 chambers in an area of one tenth of an inch by one tenth of an inch. Each chamber is one picoliter, which means that one drop of water can fill more than 100,000 of these chambers.
Luckily for Drs. Kuypers, Lee and their colleagues, their idea for the SiCMA had enough potential to partner with a small startup company and garner a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant from the National Institutes of Health, which provides just enough start-up money upfront to move from an idea to proof-of-principle.
With the latest breakthrough just published, Dr. Kuypers plans on applying for a phase 2 SBIR, and he and his colleagues are now actively working with business partners to help develop the SiCMA into a product that could be used by other scientists, both in the lab and in the clinic.
"The next step will be to turn what we used here in this study to provide proof of principle into a simple, straightforward and easy-to-use device that is highly sensitive," says Dr. Kuypers. "At the same time, we also will be exploring the different ways in which this device can be applied in a variety of clinical and research based areas from hematology and oncology to immunology."