This electron microscope image shows magnetic nanoparticles.
The core of Nexgenia’s technology is the use of smart polymers combining antibodies and magnetic nanoparticles. Very small magnetic nanoparticles bind to biomarkers dramatically better than current microbeads, but their size makes them too small to be attracted by a magnet. Nexgenia’s smart magnetic nanoparticles can switch between being individual particles that are good at recognizing targeted molecules and forming large particulate aggregates with dimensions big enough to be rapidly pulled over to a magnet and separated from the rest of the sample.
Fast and easy separation is a key advantage enabled by the polymer they developed. The smart particles can be small and mix with specimen solution to find target biomarkers at room temperature, but making a small, simple change in conditions, such as altering temperature, pH or salt level, causes the particles to immediately form large aggregates that can be pulled to a magnet, key biomarkers in tow.
In October 2014, Nexgenia, which uses lab space in the New Ventures Facility on the UW campus, announced that it would focus its efforts on the cell separation technology for use in personalized immunotherapy. Immunotherapy uses the body’s own immune system to help fight cancer and other diseases.
Nexgenia plans to use the polymer technology to quickly and accurately sort out the key immune cells from a patient’s blood that can be re-engineered, and returned to the patient’s body for treatment.
“It’s truly exciting for me personally, knowing that there’s a potential that my work can make an impact clinically,” Dr. Lai says. “The work that we spun out to Nexgenia is a technology that can potentially make the clinical diagnostic more sensitive. It can basically identify more patients who need help. This is not a trivial thing.”
Nexgenia continues to receive pilot funding, including a $1.2 million Small Business Innovation Research grant in 2013 and grants from UW’s CoMotion, the Life Sciences Discovery Fund and the Washington Research Foundation in fall 2014.
Read Part 2 to learn about a new drug screening platform designed to test for cardiac toxicity and ensure safer drugs get to market.
Article by Lia Unrau