The idea behind Efferent Labs – implanting a device containing living cells into the body to act as a biologic sensor – has attracted the attention of the scientific community. Although it is extremely difficult technically, the idea of using the body’s own biology to detect changes and possible threats captures the imaginations of scientists and doctors.
“When I am explaining it to doctors, all of a sudden a light goes on and they become very interested,” said Bill Rader, CEO and founder of the company in the University at Buffalo’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences.
The small company was a winner in the 43North business competition in 2014, which led to the company locating in downtown Buffalo. In addition, it has received four UB Center for Advanced Biomedical and Bioengineering Technology (CAT) grants totaling $107,000.
The company has developed an implantable device that scans cells, such as hepatocytes (liver cells) and fibroblasts (cells that make connective tissue) with florescent light to detect changes. The information is immediately sent wirelessly for analysis, and can be viewed on a tablet computer. That immediacy saves time, and the implanted sensor makes it possible to collect more data from a patient. Rader hopes to use cells from the patient being tested to elevate the level of individualized detection and treatment.
The goal is to eventually use the device to monitor cell-level changes in patients receiving chemotherapy to determine optimum dosages.
First the device will be used in lab animals.
“The lab animals are expensive, and they are stressed when they are handled,” Rader said. “With our device, scientists would be able to get 10 data points a day from one mouse, rather than one from 10 different mice.”
The device is designed to monitor interstitial fluids, but the goal is to someday have it in the bloodstream.
Using living cells to monitor changes in the body was the brainchild of Dr. Spencer Z. Rosero, MD, the chief medical officer of Efferent Labs and an associate professor of medicine at the University of Rochester. When Rader heard about it in 2012, he signed on immediately and began driving the push to bring it to market.
The company recently signed a partnership agreement with Evotec, a giant clinical research organization in Germany. It could lead to a rapid confirmation of the company’s invention.
Kim Grant, business development executive for UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, has helped network Efferent Labs into the local investor community, inviting Rader to speak at the Bio Network Committee, a gathering of “C-level” executives in the pharmaceutical industry.
“They’re one to watch,” Grant said. “I think Efferent is one of the ones that will generate significant dollars and jobs in the next two years.”
Right now the company, which has four issued patents, is small and working on a tight budget. “We’re doing this as inexpensively as possible,” Rader said.
The company hopes to close out its seed round of funding and begin its “A round” funding this year.
In the meantime, Rader and Zach Eisen, the company’s director of technical operations, are pushing things forward, eager to get their product into use.
“I wake up every single day knowing we’re going to make a difference,” Rader said.