Fighting An Untold Epidemic – One At-Home Kit At a Time

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From DNA testing and risk-screening to kits that can detect early signs of serious complications like colon cancer, at-home health diagnostics are one of the latest innovations sparked by an increased demand in patient access to easy, affordable healthcare. Just last week, Amazon released its own FDA-approved COVID-19 test kit for direct sale to consumers. To meet the demand for fast, accurate results and address one of healthcare’s most marginalized communities, one Temple Health and Bioscience District (THBD) tenant company is addressing the sexually transmitted disease (STD) epidemic head-on.

Mia Mihailovic, Paul Amador, and Sam Mihelic are the engineers, and coincidentally best friends, behind ama biotech, a medical diagnostic company committed to delivering at-home STD testing kits to women. Born from a desire to help inform populations about their own health and increase access to needed screenings, the trio took inspiration from Amador’s last name to mark their research.

“In many languages and cultures,” explains Mihailovic, “‘ama’ is a root word for love. We want to make a point-of-caring diagnostic, especially for women, a population largely underrepresented in healthcare research. That’s what love and this tool mean to us.”

Asymptomatic infection, a concept made devastatingly popular by the COVID-19 pandemic, is particularly common for STDs in women. Unfortunately, long-term consequences of bacterial STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis can lead to serious problems such as pelvic inflammation, infertility, and cervical cancer. The effects of undetected STDs, coupled with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data that shows bacterial STDs are at a staggering all-time high for the sixth consecutive year, led Mihailovic and her colleagues to develop at-home diagnostics specifically designed for women to use on a regular basis.

“Our product is a completely at-home STD test for menstruating women,” says Mihailovic. “There are other STD tests on the market that send a testing kit to the user but require the patient to send it back for third-party lab testing. Our concept is easier, faster, and more affordable.”

Mia Mihailovic inside the laboratory at Temple Health and Bioscience District in Temple, Texas

Similar to a pregnancy test, the ama biotech test delivers an at-home readout so patients can immediately understand which infections they may be carrying. Delivered at an affordable cost, these tests are designed with the at-risk population of sexually active women ages 15 to 24 in mind. Cost is increasingly becoming a barrier to health knowledge and care, with 70 percent of women in a research study showing a desire to be tested for STDs three times annually; most insurance only covers one annual test.

The ama biotech test empowers women to take stock of their health in a safe, comfortable environment – their own home. If the test indicates an infection, patients can then take the readout to their physician and discuss the next steps from there. Many STDs are bacterial infections, meaning they can be treated and in fact cured, with antibiotics, thwarting the long-term health effects left when these complications are left undetected or treated.

“Information is power,” says Mihailovic. “We aren’t here to judge anyone but to give people the knowledge they need to take care of themselves.”

In addition to identifying STDs, the ama biotech kit may help detect two other serious health issues that impact women:  bacterial vaginosis (BV) and STD antimicrobial resistance.

“We realize that there may be another sort of market,” says Mihailovic, “for women suffering from extremely common problems. Some individuals are simply more susceptible to complications like BV.”

Antimicrobial resistance, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as, “The ability of bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi to resist medicines,” is identified by the organization as a Top 10 threat to global health, that would increase human’s susceptibility to common illnesses. For example, due to its developed resistance to numerous antibiotics, gonorrhea (a bacterial STD) can now only be treated with one class of recommended antibiotics. As STD antimicrobial resistance continues to grow, it will be critical to diagnose rapidly to appropriately treat these infections the first time.

Nearly one-third of women ages 14 to 49 are estimated to carry BV, a non-STD inflammation that upsets the balance of natural microflora in the vagina. Like bacterial STDs, this condition is also treatable by a medical professional and early diagnosis can increase a patient’s comfort and overall self-care.

At THBD, the team is hard at work developing a minimal process handling feature, making the product easier for at-home use.

“Not everyone has a centrifuge at home,” jokes Mihailovic, with a nod to THBD’s state-of-the-art laboratory equipment. “We have access to quantify the concentration of biomolecules and readings of these biotests that we could not have seen without these tools.”

Stay tuned for more developments on the ama biotech team’s research and progress, as well as other tenant and biotechnology resource news at templebioscience.org.

Refining the vision: Bioscience board commits to fostering health science community

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June 10, 2021
Temple Daily Telegram | Shane Monaco

The Temple Health & Bioscience District board met Thursday in part to decide on a new vision statement: To foster a thriving health science community.

The board had two goals with for the meeting — to create and refine a new set of mission and vision statements for its path forward. The new statements are expected to be voted on by the board during its meeting later this month on June 30.

Board members invited longtime educator Robin Battershell, former superintendent of the Temple and Belton independent school districts, to aid them.

Board member Gregg Straburger said the goal of the district, and therefore the statement, was to be a catalyst in bringing bioscience industries and qualified workers to Temple.

“As a board, we are really kind of like an economic development corporation in the health sciences area,” Strasburger. “So that really focuses us on trying to bring that kind of game into town.”

While the board had a similar idea on what they wanted the district to become, Battershell helped guide the members on narrowing it down into a sentence.

Battershell said simplicity in the board’s statements and the usage of common words was important since the district is trying to market itself to a variety of people and businesses.

“You are not selling your product to everybody who has a post-graduate degree,” Battershell said. “No, you are selling your product, and we don’t know what that is at this point, to manufacturers, to educators and you are selling it to people in the health care business. So your language becomes really important that it is not too complicated and not too complex.”

Board members spent hours crafting their new statements, trying to compress what they want for the community into a simple message.

One of the most supported phrases cut from the vision statement was a desire to give taxpayers a noticeable return for the taxes they pay. Board member John Kiella said he didn’t think it needed to be in the statement since it should be noticeable to taxpayers through the district’s actions.

One of the reasons behind the district creating these new statements was a report by consultant Newmark Group Inc. that was approved by the board in March.

The report looked at Temple and the district then gave 72 recommendations on what could be done to bring more bioscience and life science companies to the area. The consultants said in the report that before the city could compete in the field, it “will require major, long-term investments in assets and workforce.”

While not part of its statement, Kiella said, he hopes at least one thing will not change as the district moves towards its vision.

“The one thing that will not change, hopefully, in the next 25 years is that we are going to be dealing with people and we are going to be giving them an opportunity,” Kiella said.

Source: https://kdhnews.com/news/region/refining-the-vision-bioscience-board-commits-to-fostering-health-science-community/article_cfae2b76-17e9-54eb-b695-1ca139285abd.html

Advanced Scanners: A Clear Vision for the Future of Digital Surgery

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In March 2020, Jeff Levine, CEO of Advanced Scanners, and his colleagues completed their first potentially life-saving trial on a brain cancer patient, launching the next phase of their technology development and leading the way to future clinical trials. That success lasted four days, until COVID-19 hit the U.S. and halted the Advanced Scanners team in their innovative tracks.

But as with everything Advanced Scanners touches, success laid on the horizon. The team was able to successfully raise $1.5 million in investment dollars during the pandemic. Now they can continue their work and are just now able to get back up and running to continue building their state-of-the-art technology. Founded in 2017, Advanced Scanners is a privately held IP and Innovation company creating a machine vision platform based on their uniquely capable 3D optical scanning technology to help neurosurgeons navigate complex procedures.

Humble Beginnings

Advanced Scanners is a tenant alumnus that got its start working on technology at Temple Health and Bioscience District (THBD). The company’s optical data platform set out to tackle a serious, but often unaddressed, issue that arises during surgery: the problem of brain shift. Neurosurgeons rely on a surgical navigation system to help them find and treat disease within the brain. The problem is that these systems rely on static preoperative images that do not track the brain patient anatomy as it moves during surgery. Surgeons rely on their own intuition and mental calculations in real-time to adjust the preoperative plan. This can lead to patient injuries and less desirable surgical outcomes. There had to be a better way. Co-founders Aaron Bernstein, PhD and Jeff Levine have been working ever since to tackle the problem of brain shift, which has led them to apply their technology to address other intraoperative problems, including cancer tissue detection.

Cutting-Edge Innovations

Advanced Scanners’ I/Ox Scanner offers a viable solution to alleviate physician and patient distress with high-resolution, real-time 3D data and optical analysis. The tool captures the shape and position of tissue with pinpoint accuracy and alerts the surgical team of changes that affect the operation in progress. This is not only applicable for those undergoing neurosurgery for epilepsy, but with this technology, they are now discovering ways to detect cancer tissue.

“As we look at the brain, for example, we can differentiate what we’re looking at with sub-millimeter accuracy,” explains Levine. “Our scanner allows us to differentiate cancer from white matter or grey matter. The data we’re collecting matches published data on what these different types of cancers look like and can show a surgical team whether they in fact did remove all of the cancer in a patient.”

Grateful to Temple

The process of developing this technology has been underway at THBD since 2018, when Advanced Scanners won first place in the Grow Your Startup From the Ground Up conference pitch competition at THBD’s annual symposium.

“THBD was the first place to buy in, help, and support us,” says Levine. “The $25,000 grant we received from THBD allowed us to conduct a cadaver study and present material to the Epilepsy Foundation where we won $150,000 in funding to continue what they referred to as, ‘the most important technical achievement’ in helping epilepsy patients.”

The Future is Bright

When the pandemic mandated an indefinite pause on clinical trials, the Advanced Scanners team pivoted to focus on technology development and refinement. Eighteen months later and with the green light provided by widespread distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine, the team is ready to resume three clinical trials on brain and spinal surgery patients. Successful completion of these trials will lead to the company’s goal of getting to market by 2022.

While Levine can empathize with individuals and professionals who put their dreams on hold as addressing the COVID-19 global health emergency took center stage, he is grateful to his early supporters, those at the Temple Health and Bioscience District who have provided a platform to not only tackle neurosurgery for pediatric epilepsy, but also the detection of cancer tissue.  To learn more about Advanced Scanners’ cutting-edge technology, visit advancedscanners.com. Learn more about THBD’s current tenants and the life-saving technology being developed in Temple at templebioscience.org.

 

 

Temple Health and Bioscience District spotlights nationally recognized local entrepreneur and inventor Daniela Blanco of Sunthetics

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Meet Daniela Blanco, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Sunthetics, one of seven current tenant companies working on life science technology at Temple Health and Bioscience District (THBD).

What makes the work of citizen-supported not-for-profit THBD stand out is the innovation taking place within the facility. Ms. Blanco represents the latest of this cutting-edge innovation as a female entrepreneur in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) field fueling the life sciences industry with processes that allow science and Artificial Intelligence (AI) to come into the energy sector.

Ms. Blanco has been nationally awarded and recognized for her work and you can currently find Temple’s own inventor streaming live on Disney+ documentary Own the Room where she discusses her groundbreaking technology in the chemical industry. She has helped to create solar-powered chemicals to decrease waste in the chemical industry and has aided in the process of commercializing AI platforms that can now be applied to all processes in the chemical industry.

Ms. Blanco grew up in Venezuela with a passion for invention and discovery, naturally leading her along the path to chemical engineering. As a young student intern in the country’s booming oil industry, she took note of practices that lack sustainability and often resulted in inefficient uses of time and money, with a harsh environmental impact. Her science mind, naturally fueled by the desire to innovate, led her to make a difference that will have world-wide impact.

While working on her Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering at New York University, Ms. Blanco studied the use of renewable energy resources in chemical manufacturing. A scientist at heart, she observed the long and arduous work involved in developing new chemical processes using the role of trial and error and the scientific method.

“That’s when I got really excited about the role of artificial intelligence [AI] to help accelerate the chemical reaction process,” says Ms. Blanco. “Instead of running hundreds of experiments to find the optimal operation of a reaction, we run a few experiments and get that data from AI.”

Focused on efficiency and broadening the impact of this AI, Ms. Blanco set out on a mission to develop software that could harness this technology and apply it to a variety of uses for chemists and chemical engineers around the world. Ms. Blanco explains, “If you look at chemistry like baking a cake, instead of recreating the wheel to determine the amount of ingredients and applied temperature and time to bake your favorite cake, the AI acts as a step-by-step recipe to help chemists reach the desired outcome more efficiently.” The only difference? The end products range from textiles to electronics and beyond rather than dessert.

As a female entrepreneur focused on improving the use of AI in the chemical industry, Blanco explored the pain points of chemists in the field to determine how to make their processes more efficient. Thus, Sunthetics was born. Realizing the broad reach of this technology, she refers to the company’s AI software as a tool that can be used across industries, from manufacturing to pharmaceuticals, to enhance sustainability, affordability, and efficiency. The result is a machine-learning platform that reduces the often long, arduous, and expensive process of scientific testing to just a few simple experiments, thus getting companies and products to market faster than they could have dreamed possible.

“When trying to develop these processes, it takes on average four times longer without the use of our tool,” says Ms. Blanco. “By using our AI, scientists are using five times less energy and raw materials to even develop their processes, so sustainability is inherently involved.”

The broad-reaching impact of this technology has earned Ms. Blanco and her team at Sunthetics global recognition. Blanco has garnered numerous awards and grants, dating back to her studies at New York University. Last year, she was recognized as one of Inc.’s “Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs of 2020” and recently in Massachusetts Institute of Technology Review’s “35 Under 35.” Along with her Sunthetics Co-Founder Myriam Sbeiti, the two were recognized this year by Forbes’ “30 Under 30.”

After signing up for a global entrepreneurial competition, Ms. Blanco learned that a documentary crew was chronicling the process and following Sunthetics’ success. As a result, her vision for the future is featured in Own the Room, a National Geographic documentary now streaming on Disney+.

Most recently, Sunthetics was awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF). This is an accolade the Venezuelan-born scientist relishes as a realization of the American Dream.

Initially drawn to Texas by family, Blanco visited Austin after defending her thesis in Spring 2020 – during the dawn of the COVID-19 pandemic. Allured by the ability to spread out and embrace lab equipment and technology, she describes herself as “lucky” to find a home in Temple, Texas at THBD.

“Our plan is to make use of the private lab as we expand and make use of the National Science Foundation [NSF] grant to run our processes in Temple,” says Blanco.

Among the big things happening in Texas’s burgeoning life science corridor, a globally-recognized technology that has the capacity to help the manufacturing of countless products and consumables resides right here in Temple, Texas. Learn more about Sunthetics at www.sunthetics.io. Read more about THBD’s current tenants at www.templebioscience.org/tenant-companies.