Raj Krishnan: Moving From Cancer Diagnosis Innovation to a Business
What recourse does an entrepreneur have when there is no venture capital for a start-up with a truly promising invention? At San Diego’s Biological Dynamics, 27-year-old founder Raj Krishnan’s solution is to win entrepreneur and student competitions—and so far he has won 13 awards, nine of them this year, including most recently a $40,000 first prize in the UC San Diego Entrepreneur Challenge, where the judges were impressed with his presentation skills. “We went to the competitions because venture capital is extremely hard to find now, and we have been fortunate. It enables us now to protect our IP and pay bills,” Krishnan says.
Raj Krishnan talks eagerly about the prospects of someday making a cancer diagnosis no more troubling to a patient than telling someone they have caught a common cold. And the bioengineering Ph.D. student at UC San Diego says he may have found a way to make that happen. Krishnan’s team of fellow UCSD students and professor Michael J. Heller believe they have found a simple and cost-effective way of detecting cancer at its outset.
Nowadays finding a cancer at an early stage usually means it can be cured. But there hasn’t been any method of detecting cancer in its earliest stages. Symptoms usually aren’t apparent until the cancer has reached a late stage of growth.
As cancer cells begin to grow, an increased amount of DNA circulates in the blood. Krishnan says this increase in “cell-free” DNA is believed to be of cancerous origin. In the 1970s, scientists noted that people with tumors have a lot of free DNA in their blood, but serious studies have only been done lately. “There still hasn’t been an easy method to isolate the DNA without degrading it,” says Krishnan. “Ours is the first that doesn’t do that, and it’s a very clear and very easy separation.”
Krishnan’s research efforts have been directed at creating technology to identify abnormal amounts of cell-free high molecular weight DNA in the blood. High molecular weight DNA is widely considered a good secondary biomarker for almost every type of cancer, but separating nanoparticles of DNA that circulate in extremely small amounts has been problematic, to say the least. This DNA is thought to be of 5-50 nanometers in size, which means it is smaller than the wavelength of light. “It’s very difficult to find in blood. The analogy of needle in the haystack has been used, but I’d say it’s more like looking for a needle on the whole farm,” says UCSD’s Heller, a professor of bioengineering. Krishnan discovered it can be done by generating an electric field through a microelectrode array.
Until recently, using AC (alternating current) electric field techniques to separate nanoparticles such as DNA from blood would have been considered impossible because of … Next Page »