Forging new ties
Published online 25 April 2012
A*STAR and a UK-based biotech company join forces to develop leading-edge diagnostic devices based on silicon nanowire technology
Jonathan O’Halloran, Chief Scientific Officer at QuantuMDx (third from left), Dim-Lee Kwong, Executive Director of the IME (fourth from right), Abdur Rub Abdur Rahman, Head of the Bioelectronics department at the IME (third from right) and colleagues at the signing of the research collaboration agreement on 23 February 2012
Rapid advances in DNA sequencing technologies and emerging diagnostic tools in recent years have led to the proliferation of biotech companies keen to bring new and innovative ideas to market. More and more biotech firms are turning to Singapore to drive innovations forward, drawing on the country’s wealth of expertise in enabling biomedical research and development to flourish. A*STAR takes a leading role in developing biomedical engineering applications and enabling partnership enterprises to be technologically competitive.
A new collaboration between the A*STAR Institute of Microelectronics (IME) and QuantuMDx Group (QMDx), a UK-based biotech company established in 2008, aims to develop innovative and affordable medical devices based on some of the latest advances in bioelectronics. The collaboration brings together the expertise of the IME in developing silicon-based nanowire technologies and QMDx’s innovative designs for a suite of novel diagnostic and DNA sequencing technologies.
“This is an important strategic collaboration for the IME with a key industry partner, validating the potential of silicon microelectronics for next-generation molecular diagnostics,” says Abdur Rub Abdur Rahman, Head of the Bioelectronics department at the IME.
One of the key goals of the new partnership will be to develop and commercialize QMDx’s handheld DNA sequencing nanowire biosensor — a device that may greatly aid medical practitioners to perform advanced diagnostic tests in a wide variety of settings, with the twin advantages of being affordable and portable. Designed by QMDx’s chief scientific officer Jonathan O’Halloran, the nanowire biosensor — currently in prototype — would enable rapid and accurate genomic sequencing at the point of need. “Nanowire biosensors fulfill an important requirement and milestone in the roadmap of biomedicine — namely, highly sensitive and multiplexed multi-analyte sensing to enable next-generation point-of-care diagnostics,” says Rahman.
The IME’s advanced silicon nanowire technology is well-suited to the design requirements of a handheld diagnostic device. As Rahman notes, “IME’s highly sensitive silicon nanowire technology is manufactured using a CMOS-compatible top down approach. This allows for scaling the sensing area and multiplexing as demanded by the application. For point-of-care applications, it is desired that the handheld instrument be as minimalist as possible. This can be achieved with CMOS-addressable nanowires with built-in sensing circuits using our approach.”
There are two basic approaches to manufacturing nanowires: top down and bottom up. “In the bottom up approach, wires are manufactured en masse, but they have to be assembled individually between contacts, which is a cumbersome and non-mass producible process,” explains Rahman. “In the top down approach, nanowires are precision-located, meaning that they can be created on desired locations. This method is mass-manufacturable, reproducible and convenient; hence our approach is advantageous.”
Silicon nanowire array (top left), microchip with silicon nanowire arrays (top right), and the prototype of packaged Silicon nanowire biosensor from IME (bottom). Images (top left and bottom): From the 14th International Conference on Miniaturized Systems for Chemistry and Life Sciences 3–7 October 2010, Groningen, The Netherlands.
© 2010 Elsevier (top right)
The capabilities of nanowire technology are being studied on many different levels at the IME, with projects ranging from applications in nanoscale pressure sensors to the development of ‘seamless’ memory devices. (For further information about IME’s integrated chip device for rapid analysis of blood samples, see Medical diagnostics: Quick blood testing.)
The IME has been actively engaged in nanowire development for diagnostics for approximately three years. With regard to some of the future research directions for his Bioelectronics team, Rahman comments, “Our current work is focused on improving the reliability of our platform for clinical deployment. Future developments include smart packaging and fluidic interfacing schemes, and a highly multiplexed CMOS nanowire platform with built-in sensing circuitry.”
Dim-Lee Kwong, Executive Director of the IME, who presided over the signing of the research collaboration agreement, comments, “The collaboration with QMDx to deliver a technology breakthrough clearly demonstrates the potential of the IME’s cross-disciplinary expertise and capabilities in the bioelectronics industry. We look forward to working with our partner towards the commercialization of their first nanowire biosensor.”
About the Institute of Microelectronics
The Institute of Microelectronics (IME) is a research institute of the Science and Engineering Research Council of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). Positioned to bridge the R&D between academia and industry, IME's mission is to add value to Singapore's semiconductor industry by developing strategic competencies, innovative technologies and intellectual property; enabling enterprises to be technologically competitive; and cultivating a technology talent pool to inject new knowledge to the industry. Its key research areas are in integrated circuits design, advanced packaging, bioelectronics and medical devices, MEMS, nanoelectronics, and photonics.
About QuantuMDx Group
QuantuMDx Group (QMDx) is a UK-based nanomedtech company founded by Elaine Warburton, an experienced healthcare chief executive and Jonathan O’Halloran, a molecular biologist and the inventor of QuantuMDx Group’s technology. QuantuMDx Group is developing and commercializing affordable handheld sample-to-result diagnostic and DNA sequencing technologies using nanowire biosensors and innovative microfluidic technologies. QuantuMDx owns the exclusive worldwide rights to DNA sensing and DNA sequencing using nanowires.