Case Study 

Iceni Diagnostics, a young spin-out company from the John Innes Centre and the University of East Anglia, is working on ways in which the recognition of agents that cause disease using carbohydrates can be  exploited in the development of cheap, fast and easy to use diagnostic tests.The aim is to devise simple to use methods that require no scientific training or infrastructure and that give a result within 15 minutes – something similar to a pregnancy test, for instance. The company is led by Profs Rob Field and David Russell who have worked together closely for more than 12 years on the development of methods for the analysis of protein-carbohydrate interactions (nanoparticles, quantum dots and carbohydrate microarrays). The company has research and development programs aimed at the detection of viruses, bacteria and protein-based toxins, such as cholera toxin.  A major focus of research and development lies in pathogens found in the food chain. The importance of this is supported by surveillance of infection risk in food supplies - farmed animals and crops - and the early diagnosis of diarrhoeal diseases in humans. These diseases are a major drain on health service resources worldwide and disturbingly they remain major killers in the developing world. A key feature of Iceni’s strategy is to enable rapid discrimination of bacterial from viral infection. This would allow early isolation of infected individuals as well as the informed prescription of antibiotics, saving this precious resource for only those patients who could benefit i.e. those suffering from bacterial infection. Viral infection would merit the prescription of completely different classes of drug. By fixing specific sugars onto metallic nanoparticles, it is possible to detect the presence of the bacterial or viral molecules that bind that sugar. This is because the recognition of the sugar results in clustering of the nanoparticles, causing an easy-to-see colour change from red to blue.

The development of diagnostic tests for norovirus and rotavirus, important causal agents of diarrhoea and vomiting, are being supported by the Innovate UK Biomedical Catalyst fund from which Iceni Diagnostics recently received just under £100k. They also received c. £13k from the UK Discovery fund. Both applications were supported by RedKnight Consultancy Ltd.

Research supported by these funding programmes is progressing well with prototype tests being developed within the next 12 months, so that clinical evaluation and optimisation of the test can take place subsequently.  Developing a suite of designer sugars as part of these projects will pave the way for tests that will detect a wide range of infectious diseases, spanning medicine to agriculture

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