Dispertech is a high-tech company that is building the next generation of nanoparticle characterization devices (read here for more information on nanoparticles). Our technology is based in using hollow optical fibers to follow the movement of very small objects. From the movement and the brightness of the objects we can then measure their size and some other interesting properties such as their density.
Even though we don't see them, nanoparticles are an essential part of our daily lives. Cells in our bodies generate nanoparticles called extracellular vesicles (or EV). They are tiny spheres that can carry a cargo, and is one of the mechanisms in which cells can communicate with each other. There are some hints pointing to the potential of EV's as biomarkers for disease. The working idea is that some sicknesses can alter the size distribution of these particles in the body. If we could monitor it, we could have a very powerful diagnostics tool. Moreover, EV's are a booming field that requires better, more sensitive, and more accurate characterization devices. [read more about EV's here]
In biology, EV's are not the only important nanoparticles. Viruses have sizes in the range of few tens of nanometers up to few hundreds. Even though we associate virus with disease, they are very promising tools for delivering drugs to very localized parts of the body. Moreover, viruses could help us fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The field of virology is slowly moving towards more sensitive measurements, requiring single-particle accuracy and better resolution. Our technology can bridge the knowledge gap that exists in the field.
Finally, we should not forget that nanoparticles can also be man-made. A common example is the titanium dioxide (TiO2) that is used in many sunscreens. Cosmetics in general employ a range of nano products to achieve the required properties. At industrial scales, nanoparticles can be used to tune the properties of fluids and to increase the chemical yield of reactions. In Nanomedicine, small particles are the core idea behind highly specific treatments, however characterizing them is complex and getting FDA approval becomes cumbersome. The impact of nanoparticles in the environment and human health is poorly understood and hard to regulate [see this article]. Therefore we foresee that lower-cost measurements that can deliver high-quality results could become a game changer in many industries.
The process of technology-transfer
Dispertech is a spin-off in which several universities are involved. The technology itself was developed by Sanli Faez during his stay at the Max Planck Institute and later at Leiden University, resulting in a patent. The technique was further improved at Utrecht University, where Sanli is currently an assistant professor. Developing new technology, however, requires making it available to a broader audience. Even though collaborations are a possibility, it is hard to achieve a symmetric situation in which both groups benefit equally.
Therefore, making a device available for purchase as a product and not as a purely academic endeavor appeared as a promising option. In 2018 I briefly joined the group at Utrecht as a part-time postdoc. My scientific task during the stay resulted in PyNTA, while the other part of my time was focused onto building a business case that we could use to get initial funding. This lead to obtaining the Take Off grant and to partner with Nascent Ventures to kickoff the project. The technology-transfer experience is something worth a much deeper discussion.
For an ongoing documentation of the process, you can check aquiles.me/dispertech.