Rising Startup Sets Sights on Diagnostics for Research Animals

September 1, 2006

Advanced Liquid Logic, a startup company founded by two Ph.D. graduates from Duke electrical and computer engineering, is growing by leaps and bounds. The company aims to miniaturize and automate clinical and research laboratory tests by taking advantage of the natural surface tension of liquid drops.

“Our vision is to make chemical processing as routine and simple as information processing is today,” said Michael Pollack, one of the founders of the company, which is located in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

When the budding business launched in 2004, co-founders Pollack and Vamsee Pamula were going it alone.

“We were the company then — the two of us,” Pamula said. “Now, we have 15 people — soon to be 21 — and are continuing to grow.”

The central technology is a palm-sized microfluidic processor that uses electrical fields to manipulate nanoliter size droplets. The processor--which grew out of work the two conducted in the lab of electrical and computer engineering professor Richard Fair--can be programmed to pinch off tiny drops, transport and mix them as desired. Fair chairs the company’s scientific advising board.

In theory, such a processor could be adapted for any testing scenario involving liquid handling.

“Now, a blood sample is collected and sent on to a central lab,” Pollack said. “Our miniaturized device can perform the tests at the point of care; a physician would have test results immediately available so that they could make faster and better medical decisions.”

Another advantage of their processor is that the volumes needed for testing are very small. That characteristic initially led Pollack and Pamula to aim the microfluidic processors for use in testing for premature babies, who have little blood to spare.

While still pursuing that goal in collaboration with Duke University Medical Center’s Neonatal-Perinatal Reseach Institute, the pair has begun to focus on another arena: research animal diagnostics. Such animal testing could be made available sooner as it involves fewer regulatory hurdles than would clinical use, Pollack said.

The technology required for animal diagnostics are nearly identical to those that might one day be applied at the clinic, Pamula said. Early development of research tools will also generate a revenue stream that can be applied to further the microfluidic processors’ clinical application.

“Our microprocessor could allow scientists to make do with less,” Pamula said, an advance that might prove a major boon for research. In studies of mice, for example, scientists often have to sacrifice an animal to conduct the tests required for gathering the necessary data.

Pollack and Pamula have received several grants for the further clinical development and testing of their technology from the National Institutes of Health and NASA. One of the grants established a collaboration with infectious disease experts at Duke University Medical Center to examine the platform’s use in diagnosing communicable diseases, such as sepsis or pneumonia.

They are also in the early stages of establishing commercial partnerships, they said. The company model aims to take advantage of larger companies’ established channels for manufacture and distribution as a means to get products to market faster, Pamula said.

Find out more about the company's beginnings here.