It’s probably best to explain Marblar, a creative ‘playground’ or, as it could be called, a ‘wisdom of the crowd initiative’, before describing the e-Gnosis chip project.
Basically, Marblar is inviting people to participate in an online game/conversation where competitors make suggestions to ‘host’ inventors about how to best commercialize their inventions. Anyone can register to join in; there are two types of incentives for ‘game players’. First, they can accumulate marbles/points by voting and/or contributing ideas. Second, they can win cash prizes. Here’s how the Marblar community describes itself, from the About page,
Marblar is a creative playground that takes over-looked technology and unleashes a crowd of multi-disciplined, brilliant Marblars to discover new applications.
It is like a big game where many minds work together to realise the promise of science. Working with tech holders, we find the best technology deserving of a second look and transform these into challenges for the crowd of Marblars. The best ideas win points, kudos, and prizes. Best yet anyone can tackle any challenge. We don’t care what your background is…we care about your applied brilliance.
There’s a very interesting list of organizations backing this initiative, heavily weighted towards UK institutions but with a solid international presence, from the Partners page,
University of Oxford
MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology
Edinburgh Research and Innovation
King’s College London
Getting back to the game, for the hosted competitions, participants get to brainstorm ideas for a fixed period of time. These ideas are then refined over another fixed period of time with the inventor finally choosing a winner.
Now on to the specific game/project, the e-Gnosis chip (nanopore sensor). The inventor, Peter Kollensperger of the Imperial College London, has created a portable diagnostic device. There are many such diagnostic devices being developed all over the world, many of them designed for medical use. Kollensperger wants to find another market niche for his e-Gnosis chip device,
The vast majority of biosensors today are based on some form of optical readout to get the results you want. You usually have a choice between inexpensive (but non-quantitative) methods such as lateral flow tests (e.g. pregnancy tests), which just show you a blue line if positive, or more sensitive tests that can tell you how much of the analyte is present using specialised optical equipment. These quantitative tests generally require several extra wash steps and additional reagents and are carried out by labs or on specialised microfluidic or robotic platforms. We wanted to develop a sensitive, quantitative technology that doesn’t require expensive platforms but instead:
- Could be read using a low-cost smartphone or laptop accessory (<$20);
- Works with a small amount of sample (~10 microlitre, such as a tiny drop of blood, urine or saliva)
- Requires no (or just one) washing steps.
- Runs several different tests on the same sample simultaneously.
- Is as easy to use as a pregnancy test.
Here’s what the inventor is looking for (from the e-Gnosis chip page),
We’ve been looking at the field of medical diagnostics for a while, but the point-of-care market is highly competitive, fragmented into relatively small markets, with high entry barriers in the form of FDA [US Food and Drug Administration]/EMA [European Medicines Agency] approval. So for any medical diagnostic we’d need a large market, where our device’s unique features (multiplexing, rapid & simple point-of-care use without sample prep) offer a very significant competitive advantage, and can justify the high barrier costs for approval.
We’d be very interested to hear ideas about a consumer market to prove the device commercially, keeping in mind:
- While the chip-manufacturing part of the process is cheap, the cost/test is unlikely to ever fall below $6-8 due to functionalization and assembly. We need an application where customers would pay enough to allow a reasonable profit margin.
- Need a high-volume application to justify setup costs of chip-manufacture (>$300k). What’s your market size?
- What would be the market entry route? Who’d be our commercial partners? What are the competing devices and their price? How would distinguish ourselves against these?
Here’s a little more about Kollensperger (from the e-Gnosis chip page),
I’m Peter Kollensperger and I’m working with Prof. Green in the Optical and Semiconductor Devices Group of the Electrical and Electronic Engineering Department at Imperial College London.
My research to date has focused on the use of nanotechnology for biosensing applications, but my overarching interest is in making diagnostic/sensing technologies more accessible both to doctors and the general public.
The combination of scalable nanotechnology and the hugely parallel processing of semiconductor foundries holds great promise for the area of biosensors and we are looking for applications where the end-user wants to get results on the go without spending a large upfront amount on a reader. This can be in medical diagnostics, but ideally would be in an underserved consumer market where the combination of properties of our chip can make a real difference.
The Marblar community offers video services for the inventors hosting competitions and this is Kollensperger’s
There’s still time (20 days) to enter the competition. Good luck!
By the way, I owe a big thank you to Daniel Bayley for contacting me about the project and about Marblar.