Emerging Technology: 10-minute blood test detects long Covid and Alzheimer’s

Category: Europe Med Tech Startup

UK scientists have created a quick and simple finger-prick blood test that can identify disease-related proteins using technology, including those linked to conditions such as long Covid and Alzheimer’s, in just 10 minutes or less.

Diagnostic technology advancement

Attomarker, a venture originating from the University of Exeter, showcased its innovative diagnostic technology at the British Science Festival in Exeter, with CEO Andrew Shaw demonstrating its potential impact on healthcare and data analysis.

The technology has already delivered its first clinical results this year by detecting long Covid through the presence of six antibodies indicating the persistence of the Sars-Cov-2 virus in a patient’s body. Additionally, it is in development for identifying proteins associated with female fertility, food allergies, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and distinguishing bacterial from viral infections to combat antimicrobial resistance.

Currently the technology operates on a laboratory instrument, providing results in seven to 10 minutes. However, Attomarker plans to release a handheld device connected to a mobile phone with a diagnostic cartridge next year.

Securing finance

Andrew Shaw addressed comparisons to Theranos, the fraudulent US blood-testing company, noting the stark contrast in success and funding. Attomarker has managed to raise £4.5 million since 2017 and aims to secure an additional £3 million by the end of 2023, with plans for a larger Series A funding round in the next two years.

Attomarker’s technology relies on gold nanoparticles on an array of sensor spots, each treated to bind with specific proteins. It can scan for up to 20 biomarkers from a mere 0.01ml blood sample, compared to the 30ml sample required for routine hospital blood tests. When illuminated from below as blood passes over the array, the nanoparticles scatter light in a pattern that indicates the quantity of biomarkers attached to the surface.

Among the numerous applications in development, Shaw highlighted three with significant commercial potential: a device for detecting nine different Alzheimer’s biomarkers, an “infection chip” for distinguishing bacterial and viral infections in cases with vague symptoms, and a hormone-detection tool for fertility and menopause. The mobile device is projected to cost approximately £300, with each test array or chip ranging from £10 to £20. The initial route to market is expected to be private clinics, followed by adoption within the NHS at a later stage.

References to Theranos

Theranos, initially hailed as a healthcare game-changer, ultimately became synonymous with a major corporate fraud. Founded by Elizabeth Holmes in 2003, it promised a revolutionary blood-testing device requiring only a few drops of blood for comprehensive diagnostics.

However, investigations revealed Theranos had deceived investors, patients, and regulators regarding its technology’s capabilities. The Edison machine, meant for these tests, consistently produced inaccurate results, relying heavily on conventional equipment. In 2016, the SEC charged Holmes and Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani with massive fraud, uncovering the extent of the deception.

Theranos collapsed, facing lawsuits, regulatory penalties, and a tarnished reputation. Holmes stood trial for fraud, concluding in 2022 with a mixed verdict. This scandal underscored the need for diligence in healthcare and served as a cautionary tale about unchecked tech ambition.

Innovation in healthcare

It remains to be seen what kind of impact this revolutionary blood test created by UK scientists through Attomarker will have on the healthcare sector. The speed and accuracy of this innovation is key and it will be a significant advancement to diagnose condition s such as like long Covid and Alzheimer’s. It is a significant medical advancement, especially as it identifies multiple biomarkers from a tiny blood sample, surpassing conventional methods.

The technology’s applications, including Alzheimer’s detection and distinguishing bacterial from viral infections, hold immense commercial promise. Attomarker is backed by demonstrated technology and responsible funding, aiming to make a lasting impact on the medical field. This remarkable leap showcases the company’s potential for innovative, reliable and accessible diagnostic solutions in the future of healthcare.

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